UAE astronauts to be quarantined ahead of historic launch

Hazza Al Mansouri and Sultan Al Neyadi to be placed in clean environment to avoid bringing germs up to the International Space Station

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In two weeks, Hazza Al Mansouri, the UAE's first astronaut, will be confined to a containment area and denied access to the outside world. It will be for his safety and that of the astronauts in the International Space Station, where he is due in less than a month.

Maj Al Mansouri, 35, will be placed in quarantine with the rest of the main and back-up crews for two weeks to ensure they are free of germs or infections ahead of the historic mission for the UAE.

“The idea behind the quarantine is that the astronauts and the crew will be in a clean environment away from any possible infections,” Salem Al Marri, Assistant Director General for Scientific and Technical Affairs at Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre, said on Monday.

“You don’t want them catching a viral infection or a cold just before they fly into space.

“You don’t want to be in a micro gravity environment with an infection as the effects on the human body could end up being multiplied, compared to what might happen on Earth.

“They will be in a safe, secure and clean environment to avoid any possible infections.”

During their quarantine, Emiratis Maj Al Mansouri and back-up astronaut Sultan Al Neyadi, 38, will be in the care of the Russian Federal Medical-Biological Agency, which will be responsible for preventing germs from entering their ground and space facilities.

The facilities and tools they use will be frequently sterilised, as will their accommodation, buses and training sites. Immediately before the flight, health experts will clean the Soyuz MS-15, the space flight that will carry the team to the ISS on September 25.

Meanwhile, the astronauts will be placed in the so-called "clean room", where they will be subjected to their final sterilisation, along with their belonging — which, for Maj Al Mansouri, will include a silk UAE flag and a copy of the Quran.

The astronauts will have a final opportunity to speak to their families in the hours before the launch from behind a thick wall of glass.

They will then board the Soyuz-MS 15 spacecraft at Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan two hours before getting clearance for take-off, at 5.56pm UAE time.

Similarly, when they arrive at the International Space Station they will have to wait for two hours after docking before being allowed to open the hatch.

This is to ensure that both mission control and the International Space Station are satisfied that the docking is secure.

The role of Maj Al Mansouri on the Soyuz spacecraft will be that of second flight engineer to American Nasa astronaut Jessica Meir and Russian cosmonaut Oleg Skripochka.

Once the launch has taken place, Mr Al Neyadi’s part in the mission will have concluded unless he is called upon to take the place of his fellow countryman.

Maj Al Mansouri will return to Earth on October 3, at 4.48pm.

On Monday, Mr Al Marri allayed any fears that last weekend’s aborted attempt to dock a Russian Soyuz spacecraft at the ISS would have negative repercussions for the UAE’s project.

The unmanned spacecraft was carrying supplies, and a humanoid robot, when its automated docking system failed to lock on to its intended docking port.

“A disconnection is not a failure, this can be quickly corrected,” he said.

“The flight was unmanned and will have absolutely no bearing on our mission.”

Plans are already under way for what comes next as the UAE seeks to conquer space.

“This is only the first step in a wider programme,” said Yousuf Al Shaibani, MBRSC Director General.

“We have a comprehensive and ambitious plan which we will announce in time.”

What will Hazza Al Mansouri take to space?

When Maj Al Mansouri goes to space next month, he will be carrying 10kg of cargo — courtesy of Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre.

The shipment includes items related to the UAE’s heritage, culture and history. These include:

  • The country's flag and logos, which will be placed in museums or distributed to the UAE's leadership upon Maj Al Mansouri's return to Earth.
  • Thirty Al Ghaf tree seeds that will be planted in celebration of the year of tolerance — of which the logo is a branch from the Ghaf tree.
  • Maj Al Mansouri's personal belongings, including family photos and other souvenirs
  • Emirati food, which will be served to the rest of the astronauts at the ISS as part of a cultural exchange.
  • A photograph of UAE Founding Father Sheikh Zayed with a delegation of Apollo astronauts, taken in 1976.
  • A copy of My Story, by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, in which the first chapter talks about the story of the day Sheikh Mohammed announced the launch of the UAE Astronaut Programme, and MBRSC's book The Race to Space.
  • Materials related to scientific experiments to be conducted at the ISS, such as inflatable balls representing Earth and Mars, among others.
  • The three winning entries of MBRSC's Send to Space competition in the categories of poetry, stories and paintings.