Nasa and UAE in talks to send Emirati astronauts to the Moon

UAE astronauts could be launched on the highly anticipated Artemis flights

Nasa administrator Bill Nelson. Antonie Robertson / The National
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Nasa and the UAE's Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre are in talks to approve Emirati astronauts for flights to the Moon, the chief of the US space agency said.

The Artemis programme by Nasa hopes to set up a base on the Moon this decade, with only American and Canadian astronauts assigned to flights so far.

During a media event on Wednesday over the UAE's role in the landmark project, Nasa administrator Bill Nelson said there were discussions between the two organisations.

"Are there talks going on? The answer is yes. We're not ready to make an announcement. I will leave that to the space centre here," Mr Nelson said in response to a question from The National.

As part of the Artemis programme, Nasa plans to launch the Lunar Gateway – a small station in lunar orbit that would host astronauts before they descend to the Moon's surface.

The National previously reported that the UAE had expressed interest in supplying an airlock for the station, which would ultimately allow the country's astronauts to get easier access to the Moon.

Only five space agencies played a role in the International Space Station, with astronauts from each organisation granted most access it.

But now, with the ISS to be retired at end of this decade due to rising costs and ageing infrastructure, there is renewed interest in returning to the Moon.

Emerging space nations such as the UAE could play a role by providing infrastructure to the Lunar Gateway that would help Emirati astronauts step foot on the Moon.

Training under way

Nora Al Matrooshi, the first Emirati woman to be selected as an astronaut, and Mohammed Al Mulla are the latest UAE astronauts training at Nasa's Johnson Space Centre in Houston, Texas.

They are training alongside Nasa astronauts the US space agency calls "the Artemis generation".

Hazza Al Mansouri and Sultan Al Neyadi, the two Emirati astronauts who have been to the ISS, have also expressed interest in going on missions to the Moon.

Dr Al Neyadi, who returned in September after a six-month mission, earlier said that he would like to go to the Lunar Gateway.

“We all know about the Gateway,” Dr Al Neyadi said. “It's a proposed station that will orbit the Moon, so I would love to be part of it.”

Nasa launched the Artemis 1 flight around the Moon last year, with the Orion spacecraft that helped gather data for future missions.

Artemis 2 is scheduled for next year and it will involve US and Canadian astronauts who will orbit the Moon.

Artemis 3, the first human lunar landing in more than 50 years, could take place by 2027.

Nasa is carrying out the construction of the Lunar Gateway on Earth, before assembly can take place in the Moon's orbit by astronauts.

Mr Nelson, who is a US senator, said that he was impressed with the UAE's achievements in space.

"The fact that you have a mission that is orbiting Mars right now – that's a very significant accomplishment," he said.

"The fact that you have trained astronauts like Hazza and Sultan, who I've now spent two days with and I liked them very much. The UAE is very technically competent and very smart."

Updated: March 13, 2024, 1:07 PM