Nasa chief welcomes Emirati astronauts embarking on two-year training programme

The new UAE recruits are in Houston to begin their arduous preparations

Nasa chief Bill Nelson has welcomed the UAE’s newest astronauts to the space agency’s training programme in Houston, Texas.

On Monday, a ceremony was held at the Ellington Field Joint Reserve Base to introduce Nasa's 2021 class of astronaut candidates. The candidates will train for two years to qualify for missions to the International Space Station and to the Moon under the Artemis programme.

Mohammed Al Mulla, 33, a Dubai Police helicopter pilot, and Nora Al Matrooshi, 28, a mechanical engineer, will train with American astronauts as part of an agreement between Nasa and the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre.

“It’s my honour to introduce a couple of more explorers. Nasa is venturing further out into the solar system but America is not going alone. We are partnering with space agencies from around the world,” Mr Nelson said.

“Today, we are joined by two United Arab Emirates crew members – Nora Al Matrooshi and Mohammad Al Mulla. Over the next two years, they will train with this class of candidates and they will strengthen the bond between our two nations.”

Once their training begins in January at the Johnson Space Centre, Ms Al Matrooshi and Mr Al Mulla will learn the space station's systems, the Russian language and robotics. They will also learn how to perform spacewalks, undergo leadership training and receive instruction in flying T-38 supersonic jets.

Graduating from the programme would qualify the trainees for missions to the ISS, taking off from the US on spacecraft built by commercial companies. They could also take part in Artemis missions.

Discussions between Nasa and the UAE on the Emirates joining the Artemis programme, which aims to establish a sustainable human presence on the Moon, are continuing.

The UAE’s first two astronauts, Hazza Al Mansouri and Sultan Al Neyadi, have already completed one year of their training at Nasa.

They are scheduled to return to Houston at end of this year to continue their progress in the programme.

Nasa's new class of astronaut candidates. Photo: Nasa

Nasa introduced 10 American astronauts – six men and four women – who will be part of the 2021 class. Most would likely walk on the Moon if the Artemis missions are successful.

“We’ve made many giant leaps throughout the last 60 years, fulfilling President Kennedy’s goal of landing a man on the moon,” said Vanessa Wyche, director of the Johnson Space Centre.

“Today we reach further into the stars as we push forward to the Moon once again and on to Mars with Nasa’s newest astronaut candidate class.”

With the addition of these new candidates, the US space agency has selected 360 astronauts since the original Mercury 7 – or Astronaut Group 1 – in 1959.

Most of the new recruits have a background in the US military, with experience in the Air Force or Marine Corps. Their ages range from 32 to 45.

Anil Menon, 45, is an Indian-American recruit who served in the US Air Force and was also SpaceX’s first flight surgeon.

Christopher Williams, 38, is a physicist who completed his residency at Harvard Medical School. His most recent work was in the radiation oncology department at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston.

Updated: December 7th 2021, 8:50 AM