'Stay humble': UAE astronauts’ advice to new recruits on handling fame, expectations and pressure

Maj Hazza Al Mansouri and Sultan Al Neyadi had some tips for Nora Al Matrooshi and Mohammed Al Mulla

The UAE's new astronauts, Mohammed Al Mulla and Nora Al Matrooshi. Courtesy: Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre
The UAE's new astronauts, Mohammed Al Mulla and Nora Al Matrooshi. Courtesy: Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre

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The UAE’s first astronauts have advised the latest new recruits to be humble and patient, as fame, intense training, maintaining a work-life balance and other challenges await them.

Maj Hazza Al Mansouri, the first Emirati in space, and reserve astronaut Sultan Al Neyadi are all too familiar with the joys and hardships that await.

Speaking to The National, the duo advised new recruits Nora Al Matrooshi and Mohammed Al Mulla to prepare themselves, but said they were confident the two are up to the daunting task.

“I’m happy Nora and Mohammed have joined us,” said Maj Al Mansouri.

“We are four astronauts now and that’s another sign that we will have more missions to space in future and we’ll be ready for anything.”

Maj Al Mansouri and Mr Al Neyadi are currently training at Nasa’s Johnson Space Centre in Houston, Texas. Their new colleagues will join them at the end of this year for a 30-month training period.

The first two astronauts already know the challenges of becoming "space-ready", having been trained by the Russians for a year.

Maj Al Mansouri already has one space mission to his name, in which he spent eight days on the International Space Station.

'There is a lot of attention on you'

Being the first Emirati in space also meant a constant spotlight.

Now, Ms Al Matrooshi’s title as the first Arab female astronaut has drawn a lot of attention to her.

“It’s a privilege to be an astronaut but there are lot of things that come with it, for example being famous,” said Maj Al Mansouri.

“You have to speak to media and there is a lot of attention on you. The Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre is ... great in helping them prepare for that.”

He has spoken previously of being unable to go to parks and other public places without being surrounded by large groups of fans.

Nasa’s Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin was well-known for his struggle with fame and battling depression, while fellow Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong, the first person to walk on the Moon, and Michael Collins gave up the spotlight to lead regular lives.

Maj Al Mansouri said the new recruits are aware of all the attention coming their way and advised them to be humble.

“I told them that they are famous now and that you’ll encounter a lot of different situations in your life that you’ll have to handle wisely,” said Maj Al Mansouri.

“But, most importantly, remember that you have to be humble, because you might think you’re above everyone now that you’re an astronaut, but you have to stay humble and inspire the next generation.”

Learning patience

The new astronauts were also advised to be patient for a space mission.

Mr Al Neyadi, who was Maj Al Mansouri’s back-up for the mission to the ISS, said there could be years of training before an astronaut gets to launch.

“I told them that it's going to be a real challenge,” he said.

I think the most important thing is to be patient and to be able to handle the pressure. It’s not a short trip – it could be years of training that would prepare them for long-duration missions. The most important thing is patience and persistence.”

The new recruits are unlikely to launch into space within the next three years.

They are being trained in the UAE until the end of this year, followed by their training at Nasa.

Only the astronaut who is selected for the next space mission would then undergo mission-specific training.

However, it could be that two astronauts are selected, if the UAE secures two seats on a flight.

Maj Al Mansouri said the profession is more of a marathon, rather than a sprint.

“You will start your training for a couple of years, maybe up to five years or six years – no one knows,” he said.

“But, eventually, you will be assigned to a mission. So, you have to be patient, learn how to handle pressure and gain new skills.”

'Under a lot of pressure'

Maj Al Mansouri also said the new astronauts could learn from his and Mr Al Neyadi’s experience.

“In the beginning, we didn't have any astronauts in the country to give us advice, so they are lucky to have us because we’ve learned a lot through our journey,” he said.

“We’ve given them good advice on the variety of skills you need for the training, skills that you have to master mentally, physically and emotionally – you would be put under a lot of pressure.”

He spoke about having to spend up to six to seven hours in the world’s largest pool for spacewalk training, while wearing a 130-kilogram extravehicular activities suit and performing tasks underwater.

He said they must have the skills to communicate with their colleagues, be sharp and ready for any possibility.

Maj Al Mansouri and Mr Al Neyadi said they are confident the new recruits are capable of handling the pressure.

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Updated: April 12, 2021 12:21 PM

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