The UAE’s first two astronauts have completed their first year of training at Nasa, making them eligible to perform spacewalks in future missions.
Hazza Al Mansouri, the first Emirati to go to space, and Sultan Al Neyadi, who was reserve astronaut for that landmark journey on the International Space Station, have been training at Nasa’s Johnson Space Centre in Houston, Texas, since late last year.
The first part of their 30-month training involved learning how to perform spacewalks outside the International Space Station (ISS) to carry out maintenance work on the structure — an essential part of an astronaut’s duty on the floating laboratory.
“Astronauts Hazza Al Mansoori and Sultan Al Neyadi completed their first training year successfully at Nasa’s Johnson Space Centre,” the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre said.
“Throughout their six hours underwater in the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory, they passed their evaluations which included using the Extravehicular Mobility Unit, the maintenance of the International Space Station and the Incapacitated Crew Rescue.”
Astronauts learn how to perform spacewalks at Nasa’s Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory, the world’s largest indoor swimming pool. It is 12 metres deep and holds 2.4 million litres of water.
A mock-up of the ISS is built beneath the pool, where astronauts spend more than six hours each time while wearing 115-kilogram extravehicular activity suits.
“Yesterday we completed the pre-assignment flow training at Nasa Johnson Space Centre, which ended with an evaluated NBL run. Now the spacewalk dream is closer to reality,” said Dr Al Neyadi.
The astronauts had their final evaluation on Friday. A committee of veteran Nasa astronauts and trainers determined whether the two Emiratis had gained the necessary skills for spacewalks.
There were also evaluated on their knowledge of how to use the heavy suit and carry out maintenance work, and on their performance during crew rescue scenarios.
“It's been a challenging year for us. We trained with different equipment and complex systems, and we learnt a lot from the people here,” Maj Al Mansouri said.
“Many thanks to Johnson Space Centre and a heartfelt thanks to the astronauts, engineers, experts, divers and doctors for this year, which has been more than wonderful.”
Maj Al Mansouri and Dr Al Neyadi trained with qualified Nasa astronauts during their time at the US space centre, including Reid Wiseman, who has been on three space missions.
They also learnt how to operate the systems on the ISS, such as the robotic arm on the station that is used by astronauts to catch cargo supply vehicles.
Both of them completed their training on Nasa’s T-38 aircraft, a supersonic jet that moves faster than the speed of sound so the pilot can experience seven times the force of Earth's gravity.
It is not yet known when the two astronauts will return to Houston to continue their training. However, the UAE’s newest astronauts are set to join the training centre in January.
Mohammed Al Mulla, a helicopter pilot with Dubai Police, and Nora Al Matrooshi, the first Arab female astronaut, joined the UAE’s astronaut corps earlier this year.
All four astronauts are going to visit the Expo 2020 Dubai site for the Space Week taking place from October 17 to October 23.
They will also attend the International Astronautical Congress, the world’s largest space conference, which is on at the World Trade Centre from October 25 to October 29.
American astronauts and Russian cosmonauts who were part of Maj Al Mansouri’s space mission on the ISS will also attend, including Jessica Meir, Andrew Morgan, Christina Koch, Nick Hague and Aleksey Ovchinin.