Twenty Emirati women in the running to become UAE’s next astronaut

Two astronauts will be selected by the end of this year, with more than 4,000 candidates narrowed down to just 61

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The UAE is a step closer to selecting its next two astronauts, with women making up a third of the remaining 61 hopefuls.

The names of the country's next intrepid space travellers will be revealed in January at the end of an extensive search that on completion will have taken more than a year.

The chosen two will aim to follow in the footsteps of the Emirate's first trail-blazing astronauts, Maj Hazza Al Mansouri, the first Emirati in space, and Dr Sultan Al Neyadi.

Maj Al Mansouri made history when he spent eight days on board the International Space Station in September of last year, with Dr Al Neyadi part of the reserve crew for the landmark mission.

An initial 4,305 applicants have been whittled down to 61 – 41 men and 20 women.

Compared with the first astronaut hunt in 2018, there has been a slight increase in the number of women who applied to the astronaut programme and made it this far into the selection process.

"We have reached an important stage in the programme's journey to select the second batch of Emirati astronauts, who will participate in scientific missions in space," said Yousuf Al Shaibani, director general of the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre.

“We are also proud of the centre’s Emirati experts and the efforts they have put in to find the right candidates for the Emirati astronaut corps.

“Our capabilities in the space sector continue to grow at a rapid pace, and the two new Emirati astronauts will add great momentum to strengthening the ambition of the UAE's space exploration missions."

The average age of the candidates is 28 – the youngest is 23 and the oldest is 39.

They come from all sorts of educational backgrounds, three have a PhD and 12 hold a master’s degree.

More than half (54 per cent) work in the engineering sector, 18 per cent are from the military, another 18 per cent are in aviation and 5 per cent are in health care.

The list was first narrowed down to 2,099 people based on age, educational background and scientific research experience.

Because of the Covid-19 pandemic, these candidates took an online test and the number was then brought down to 1,000, followed by an IQ, personality and technical knowledge assessment.

Only 122 of them were chosen to be part of an online interview, of whom 61 are still in the running.

Once selected, the two new astronauts will head to Nasa’s Johnson Space Centre in Houston as part of an intensive training programme.

Maj Al Mansouri and Dr Al Neyadi are already there, learning ISS systems and how to spacewalk.

Source: Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre 

While the first two astronauts have already been trained by Russia’s space agency Roscosmos, it will be an entirely new experience for the new ones selected.

In Houston, they will learn the Russian language, how to maintain and manage payloads, learn robotics, various systems on the space stations, space engineering, scientific research and getting the body familiarised with microgravity.

UAE astronauts' training in Russia - in pictures