UAE space centre chief hails successful Boeing test flight to International Space Station

Project could give Emirates more opportunities to send its astronauts to space

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A UAE space centre chief has hailed the milestone success of Boeing's test flight to the International Space Station, which is set to open up a world of opportunity for more manned space missions.

The US aerospace company's CST-100 Starliner spacecraft successfully docked with the ISS before returning back to Earth safely on Thursday morning, UAE time.

The spacecraft is part of Nasa's commercial crew programme to send its astronauts to the orbiting space laboratory, in a deal similar to the one the US space agency has with Elon Musk’s SpaceX.

The capsule landed at the White Sands Space Harbour, a spaceport in New Mexico, after completing the six-day flight test.

Salem Al Marri, director general of the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre, the organisation that runs the UAE's astronaut programme, said the Emirates could benefit from an additional spacecraft that can take humans to the ISS.

Nasa teams retreive the Boeing CST-100 Starliner capsule after it lands in New Mexico. EPA

“Congratulations to Boeing and Nasa on a great job. The more opportunities there are for access to space, in general, and to the ISS through these missions, the better that is for all parties involved,” said Mr Al Marri.

For more than a decade, only Russia’s Soyuz rocket could launch humans into space. However, SpaceX is now also taking astronauts to the ISS as part of Nasa’s commercial crew programme.

Once Boeing starts launching manned missions to the ISS, it would mean an additional “taxi service” to the station for astronauts.

“With Boeing's test success, I think now we are looking forward to the first crewed missions. And once those go through, of course, then that gives an option for crewed missions using a SpaceX, a Soyuz with the Russians and Boeing. That is great for the industry for the UAE,” said Mr Al Marri.

For the space centre and for Emirati astronauts, it also means “getting good deals” on space missions, he said.

The UAE launched its first astronaut on a Soyuz rocket and its next astronaut will ride on a SpaceX Dragon capsule that will lift off on a Falcon 9 rocket next spring.

With the test flight now complete, Boeing could be launching Nasa astronauts into space by end of this year. The next step will be a manned test flight to the ISS.

Joel Montalbano, manager of Nasa’s ISS Programme, said the flight was a step towards making another transport system to the space lab available.

“Soon, we hope to see crews arrive to the space station on Starliner to continue the important microgravity scientific research and discovery made possible by the orbiting laboratory,” he said.

Updated: May 26, 2022, 1:03 PM