The UAE is preparing to give astronaut Sultan Al Neyadi a hero’s welcome when he returns from space in a few weeks.
He will complete a six-month science mission on the International Space Station at the end of August, depending on whether the handover to the arriving crew takes place on time.
Salem Al Marri, director general of the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre – the organisation that oversees the country’s astronaut programme – said preparations are under way to welcome back Dr Al Neyadi, including meetings with leaders, celebrations and roadshows.
“For his return, we’re looking at the end of August or the beginning of September. We expect to give him a hero’s welcome,” Mr Al Marri told The National on Friday.
“When he’s back on Earth, he’ll first go into a kind of medical rehabilitation, such as physiotherapy, blood [tests] and a lot of science work that will need to be completed in those first days.
“Then he’ll come to the UAE and participate in a lot of activities before going back to the US to continue his debrief.”
Dr Al Neyadi, 42, who took off for the ISS in March, became the first Arab astronaut to carry out a long-duration space mission.
The father of six has used the time to participate in more than 200 science investigations, maintenance work on the station and also carried out the first spacewalk by an Arab astronaut.
He followed in the footsteps of his colleague Hazza Al Mansouri, who in 2019 became the first Emirati astronaut in space.
When Maj Al Mansouri returned from his eight-day mission on the ISS, he was received by President Sheikh Mohamed, with a small celebration held on his behalf.
Dr Al Neyadi hopes to pave the way for future astronauts, including Nora Al Matrooshi and Mohammad Al Mulla – the newest members of the UAE astronaut corps.
Once he is back in the UAE for a longer stay, Dr Al Neyadi is expected to take part in a roadshow, travelling across the country and internationally to speak to pupils about his experiences.
“He’ll go to universities, schools and government departments to really give back,” Mr Al Marri said.
'I would love to stay more'
Dr Al Neyadi told The National during a live call on Friday that he would stay on the station for another six months, given the chance.
"I would love to stay more. I have many things I'd like to do. But honestly, we don't get to choose. It's a programmed schedule, so we serve our time and then we go back.
"But when I'm back, I'll definitely miss microgravity. I'll miss looking down to Earth."
He said he was looking forward to eating "fresh food and drinking a cup of coffee".