Sultan Al Neyadi takes off once more in flight to mark UAE's role in space

The astronaut was on board a flight organised by Emirates airline to celebrate the country's achievements

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Sultan Al Neyadi has been spending time with family and adjusting to life on Earth after living in space for half a year.

The astronaut spoke to The National aboard a special two-hour flight by Emirates airline on Tuesday, which was organised to celebrate the nation's achievements in space.

Tuesday afternoon's flight was a little unusual for the Emirati astronaut as it never reached space, touring all seven emirates instead.

He was joined by mission colleagues Stephen Bowen and Woody Hoburg aboard flight EK2641.

The astronauts were part of Expedition 69, a six-month mission aboard the International Space Station that ended on September 3.

“Six months is a long duration, so I'm really happy to be home, just living as a normal person,” said Dr Al Neyadi, a father of six who was born and raised in Al Ain.

The exterior of the Emirates A380 aircraft was decorated in an astronaut graphic and a logo of the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre – the organisation that oversees the astronaut programme.

It departed from Terminal 3 at Dubai International Airport with a special message from the pilot, who said he was delighted to welcome passengers on board the flight that was carrying Emirati, Russian and Nasa astronauts.

Sultan Al Neyadi is welcomed back to hometown

Sultan Al Neyadi is welcomed back to hometown

The astronauts and MBRSC employees toured the seven emirates, flying at a much lower altitude than usual.

Dr Al Neyadi said that the flight was a “great way to thank everyone”.

“I think it's incredible. It's a great symbol of unity,” he said.

“I'm really grateful to everybody who helped me throughout the mission, especially the MBRSC employees and the Expedition 69 crew members.”

The Emirati astronaut was launched into space on March 2 from a Florida spaceport aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.

He floated his way into the history books as the first Arab to go on an extended mission and to perform a spacewalk.

Both he and Mr Bowen stepped out into the darkness of space to carry out a seven-hour maintenance task on April 28.

Adel Al Redha, chief operating officer at Emirates, said that the flight was the company's way of celebrating what Dr Al Neyadi had accomplished.

“We are really pleased to have been able to dedicate this flight, in co-operation with the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre, for the return of our astronaut. He completed a very successful journey in space,” he said.

“Space has become a focus to many leaders. There are many experiments taking place in space and that will translate into benefits for the global society.”

Dr Al Neyadi took part in more than 200 science experiments assigned to him by Nasa, MBRSC and universities across the UAE.

Some of his research involved life sciences, including wearing a biomonitor vest and headband, to allow scientists on the ground to observe his cardiovascular system while he worked in microgravity.

The research aims to help scientists study the effects of microgravity on the human heart and potentially help create therapies for heart disease.

He also carried out several live calls from the ISS, including with pupils from across the UAE, leaders and space enthusiasts.

Two Saudi astronauts, Rayyanah Barnawi and Ali Al Qarni, came aboard the station in May.

Their arrival increased the Arab population in space to three – a record number.

Dr Al Neyadi's busy schedule on the station also included taking photos of Earth, and he captured a number of striking images of the UAE from space, as well as snapshots of other parts of the world.

He has served in the armed forces as a network security engineer and holds a doctorate in information technology from Griffith University in Australia as well as a bachelor's of science in electronics and communication engineering from the University of Brighton in England.

Dr Al Neyadi is the second Emirati to journey into space, following in the footsteps of Hazza Al Mansouri, who spent eight days on the ISS in 2019.

Updated: November 29, 2023, 4:58 AM