Race is on to send first Emirati woman into space

Anyone could become the UAE's next astronaut, says senior MBRSC figure

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The race is on to send the first Emirati woman into space.

A senior figure from the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre on Tuesday said there would be no hesitation in selecting a woman for a future mission, if the right candidate was found.

Salem Al Marri, director of the Space Systems Development Department at MBRSC said there was no reason not to select a female astronaut if she was the outstanding applicant for future trips into space.

“We will choose the most talented and suitable candidate regardless of gender,” he said during a press conference in Dubai with the UAE’s first Emirati astronaut Hazza Al Mansouri.

“They will receive the same treatment as any other candidate and it’s a case of may the best person win.”

His comments came just days after Maj Al Mansouri tweeted his support for his former crew mates, on the International Space Station, Jessica Meir and Christina Koch, as they completed the first ever all-female space walk.

“Today is a special day as it marks the first ever all-female spacewalk,” he said, describing the event as an “historic achievement”.

When the mission to send an Emirati into space was first announced last year, there were more than 4,000 applications – 34 per cent were from women.

Maj Al Mansouri, who made history when he spent eight days aboard the ISS, said he was hoping to return to space as soon as possible.

“The very first question I asked in my interview was if this was a sustainable programme or if I was only going once,” he said.

“I was having to change my career and it would have been difficult to return as a pilot after taking so much time out.

“I was told I was going at least twice and maybe even a third time.”

He said both he and Sultan Al Neyadi, who was selected as his understudy for the mission earlier this year, would continue training to ensure they were ready to go when future trips were announced.

Maj Al Mansouri said words could not do justice to his experience onboard the international outpost.

“The view of Earth from the ISS was magical,” he said.

“I could look at it forever. It was not like what you see on television at all.

“To see the sunrise on earth each day was incredible and the stars were so bright it’s actually hard to describe.”

While onboard the station, Maj Al Mansouri quickly became familiar with sunrises and sunsets as he witnessed 16 of them each day.

He told of how he felt while waiting for the Soyuz MS-15 to take off for the ISS.

“I was conscious we were sitting on a huge amount of fuel which presented a risk.

“The rocket had a good safety system but I was still aware the pressure my body experienced was four times more than what I weigh.”

He described the moments when he realised the take-off was a success as “beautiful”.

“It was just an amazing feeling. Everything was flying around and shaking,” he said.

“It feels great when you spend 35 years on Earth and then suddenly experience no gravity and everything is floating in front of you.”

He said his view of the planet from the stars had given him an added determination to protect it.

“To me the Earth is just like a spaceship that needs to treated with respect and cared for,” he said.

“We must protect the planet and work together towards reducing global warming.”

Dr Al Neyadi underwent the same rigorous training as Maj Al Mansouri, and on Tuesday told of how the mission has affected his life.

“Unlike Hazza I’m lucky I can still go out and not many people will recognise me,” said the engineer, referring to Maj Al Mansouri's new found fame.

“I can still enjoy a cup of coffee in peace.”

He said he was proud to have being involved and hoped the mission would inspire future generations – with special emphasis on one eight-year-old in particular.

“I hope in 10 or 15 years’ time my own daughter can carry the legacy forward and become an astronaut.”

A look back to Hazza's return from space