Sultan Al Neyadi's joys in space included mango salads and playing chess

The Emirati astronaut has opened up about life aboard the space station in public address

Mango salad was Sultan Al Neyadi’s favourite food in space

Mango salad was Sultan Al Neyadi’s favourite food in space
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UAE astronaut Sultan Al Neyadi has told of the joys of his life in space, from eating mango salads to capturing photos of Earth during his historic spacewalk.

In his first public address since returning from his six-month mission aboard the International Space Station, Dr Al Neyadi, 42, said on Tuesday that he is missing life in space but is happy to be home.

He and his crewmates, Nasa astronauts Stephen Bowen and Woody Hoburg, were speaking from Houston, Texas, in an online briefing hosted by the US space agency, Nasa.

The astronauts returned from the orbiting outpost on September 4 and are taking part in a recovery programme to help them become accustomed to gravity again.

Mango salad was Sultan’s favourite

When asked about their favourite meals on the station, Dr Al Neyadi said that mango salad was his go-to dish.

“We have a big menu honestly, including food from Jaxa [Japan’s space agency] and the European Space Agency," he said.

“We also did an Emirati food night where we tried Emirati food.

“But honestly, six months is a long duration where you start feeling bored of specific foods.

“But one specific food that I liked until the end of the mission was a mango salad. It was my favourite.”

Mr Hoburg, who was also carrying out his first space mission, said that macaroni and cheese was his all-time favourite.

Meanwhile, Mr Bowen, who completed his sixth mission in space, said he enjoyed the fresh food that arrived on cargo resupply missions.

“In general, throughout the mission, things might change,” Mr Bowen said.

“There are certain things I had early on, but by the end, I didn't want any more … I think the spaghetti meat sauce.”

Playing chess and pulling pranks

In their spare time aboard the station, Dr Al Neyadi and his colleagues played chess games with mission control in Houston and with others around the world.

They took their time in each game, with the astronauts sometimes making only two or three moves a day.

Sultan Al Neyadi with his colleagues aboard the space station during a game of chess. Photo: Nasa

Some of Dr Al Neyadi's colleagues also took part in pranks on the floating laboratory, including when Mr Hoburg hid inside a storage compartment in the airlock – a module astronauts use to enter and exit the station.

"You were in and then we pointed the camera so the ground team could see it," Dr Al Neyadi said while speaking to Mr Hoburg.

"We open the door and there you were, but to be honest, everything was really nice and cool – it wasn't any serious or dangerous pranks.

"We did love to joke and maybe compete with each other. We also had a small night of space games."

The astronauts also held a microgravity competition in the lab, where they floated as fast as possible across the structure, with one rule in mind: do not touch any cables or machines while getting to the other side.

Taking photos of Earth during spacewalk

While the astronauts had some fun time on the ISS, they were there to carry out more than 200 science projects for researchers on the ground.

They were also required to do maintenance work to keep the station up to date, including spacewalks to fix the exterior of the lab.

Dr Al Neyadi became the first Arab astronaut to perform a spacewalk when he ventured outside with Mr Bowen for nearly seven hours.

Watch five top moments of Sultan Al Neyadi’s historic space mission

Watch five top moments of Sultan Al Neyadi’s historic space mission

He said he did have the opportunity to take short breaks during the walk to enjoy the views of Earth from above and capture photos.

"I think I was lucky enough to be in the exact moment where sometimes you have downtime for the team to figure out the next step," said Dr Al Neyadi.

"For example, I was asked to take five minutes to take some pictures. It was really great.

"To have that moment and look down to Earth, and at times seeing just nothing – what is it protecting you?

"There's just a glass [of the helmet visor] in between and everything is clear."

Feeling heavy after returning to Earth

Dr Al Neyadi and his crewmates returned to Earth aboard a SpaceX Dragon capsule, which had splashed down off the coast of Florida.

He described the feeling of experiencing gravity again after spending 186 days in space.

He said "everything felt heavy", even lifting a water bottle, but it became easier with each hour.

"It felt really, really heavy," said Dr Al Neyadi, when asked about landing back on Earth and readjusting to gravity.

"I was the last one to egress the capsule and I didn't notice my straps were off until the recovery team started to pull me, and I thought, 'Wow, it was only my weight pressing me towards the seat.'

"I remember Steve handing me a bottle of water. It felt really heavy. I just did not drink it because I didn't want to move a lot.

"But it's amazing how quickly you can get better by the hour."

Dr Al Neyadi will return to the UAE to take part in celebrations in his honour.

The Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre will soon announce his homecoming date.

Updated: September 13, 2023, 8:38 AM