UAE's first woman astronaut Nora Al Matrooshi trains for spacewalks

New images show the Emirati trailblazer wearing 145kg spacesuit underwater in Texas pool

Powered by automated translation

The UAE's first woman astronaut Nora Al Matrooshi has been training in one of the world's largest indoor pools to prepare for future spacewalks.

New images of Ms Al Matrooshi and her colleague Mohammed Al Mulla show them in their Extravehicular Mobility Unit – a 145kg suit that astronauts wear to perform spacewalks.

Training is carried out in a pool filled with 2.3 million litres of water at the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory in Houston, Texas.

Ms Matrooshi, 30, and Mr Al Mulla, 34, are the newest members of the UAE's astronaut corps, which now has four members.

They follow in the footsteps of Hazza Al Mansouri, the first Emirati man in space who spent eight days on the International Space Station in 2019 and Sultan Al Neyadi, who is currently on the ISS.

Dr Al Neyadi has completed the first spacewalk by an Arab astronaut during his six-month mission and is set to return to Earth this month.

“Proud of our Emirati astronauts Mohammed Al Mulla and Nora Al Matrooshi who are undergoing their spacewalk training,” said Salem Al Marri, director general of the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre, which oversees the country's astronaut programme.

“These training [programmes] are part of the main preparations that they are pursuing at Nasa for future missions.

“We are confident in their abilities and in our ambitious youth, who are constantly aiming for unparalleled success.

“Sultan conducted the first Arab spacewalk, but it surely won’t be the last.”

Are these Emirati astronauts going on a mission?

Ms Al Matrooshi and Mr Al Mulla have not been assigned a mission yet, but they are part of a Nasa training programme that would help them become eligible for Nasa-led missions once they graduate early next year.

The two-and-a-half-year programme helped them become familiar with the challenges and requirements of space travel.

These include learning what zero-gravity feels like, studying the ISS systems, learning Russian, training in the wilderness, robotics and spacewalk training.

The space centre hopes to secure a mission to the space station every three to four years, although the ISS will eventually retire end of this decade.

Companies such as Axiom Space and Blue Origin have plans to build commercial space stations that government astronauts could use.

The UAE also has its sights set on sending Emiratis to the Moon one day.

How do astronauts train for spacewalks?

Each hour spent doing a spacewalk requires seven hours of training in the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory pool, which provides a similar sensation of weightlessness.

Astronauts routinely float outside of the orbiting outpost for seven to eight hours at a time to conduct maintenance work on the spaceship.

As part of the training, there is a mock-up of the ISS beneath the pool that astronauts use to carry out practice tasks on.

Updated: August 15, 2023, 3:42 AM