UAE's first woman astronaut Nora Al Matrooshi gears up for intensive space training

UAE astronaut programme chief Salem Al Marri says the Arab world’s first female cadet has a bright future ahead

Nora Al Matrooshi is the first female Arab astronaut. Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre 
Nora Al Matrooshi is the first female Arab astronaut. Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre 

The first Emirati woman astronaut has a long and promising career ahead of her, the head of UAE’s space training programme said.

Nora Al Matrooshi, 27, was chosen as one of two new cadets.

Both will train for at least three years before possible selection for a mission.

Preparation includes learning to speak Russian, spacewalk and use systems on board the International Space Station.

Ms Al Matrooshi and her colleague, Mohammed Al Mulla, 33, will begin training in the UAE, then move to Houston, Texas, for a 30-month course at Nasa’s Johnson Space Centre this year.

Having somebody in their late 20s also gives us a big advantage. They can be part of our arsenal for a longer period of time

Salem Al Marri, Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre

The astronaut who is selected for the next space mission will then undergo dedicated training, which typically runs for six to 12 months.

“We would select the astronaut who matches the mission criteria,” said Salem Al Marri, head of the astronaut programme at Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre.

“All of the four astronauts have a lot of skills and are accomplished professionals, but it would depend on the type of mission it will be.”

Hazza Al Mansouri, 37, the first Emirati in space, and reserve astronaut Sultan Al Neyadi, 39, have completed six months of training with Nasa.

Next space mission

Mr Al Marri told The National that the centre was in discussions with space agencies regarding the UAE’s next mission.

“We are always in negotiations with all entities capable of launching humans into space but nothing has been signed yet,” he said.

“They would have to finish their training first and then go into a mission-specific training, whether that is with Russia or at Nasa.”

Russia’s Soyuz rocket carried Maj Al Mansouri to space in 2019, allowing him to spend eight days on the space station.

Since then, Nasa has also resumed launching humans to space through its commercial partner, SpaceX.

Mr Al Marri said the astronauts’ youth would mean they can be part of several spaceflights, making the astronaut programme more sustainable.

“Having somebody in their late 20s also gives us a big advantage,” he said.

“Rather than recruiting somebody who is 40 or 45 years old today, we’d recruit someone [younger] who fits all of the criteria and meets the capabilities.”

International Space Station or Moon mission?

Mr Al Marri said the astronaut corps now consists of professionals who bring different and important skills.

Ms Al Matrooshi is a mechanical engineer and Mr Al Mulla is a helicopter pilot with more than 1,500 flight hours.

Maj Al Mansouri has one space mission to his name, and Mr Al Neyadi, an IT professional, speaks Russian and has completed intense astronaut training in Russia.

Their diverse skills could make them suitable for more Emirati space missions, whether to ISS or future Moon missions.

“Mohammed is a helicopter pilot and that is a different set of experience,” Mr Al Marri said.

"He comes from a police background and that’s different to what Hazza and Sultan had as a military background.

“That’s a really great addition that we have and he’s also in his early 30s, which gives us an edge of having different age groups.

“I would say he’s almost a generation younger than the first two astronauts.”

Mr Al Marri said Ms Al Matrooshi’s engineering background would also prove beneficial for the nation’s space programme.

She has worked for Abu Dhabi’s National Petroleum Construction Company, which builds oil and gas platforms for companies including Adnoc and Saudi Aramco.

Ms Al Matrooshi is a member of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.

“Her skill set is very useful for different types of operations that astronauts conduct on the International Space Station, or even in the spacecraft itself,” Mr Al Marri said.

Johnson Space Centre congratulated the two new candidates.

“We look forward to training with you here in Houston,” the centre wrote on Twitter on Saturday.

The UAE has expanded its partnership with Nasa in the past few years. It signed the Artemis Accords for responsible lunar exploration and an agreement on training four Emirati astronauts on Nasa premises.

The Emirates is also continuing its collaboration with Russia.

It will sign an agreement to invest in modernising the Gagarin’s Start launch pad in Baikonur, Kazakhstan, to enable it to launch commercial space flights.

Updated: April 12, 2021 09:39 AM

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