UAE names astronaut who will spend six months on International Space Station

President Sheikh Mohamed says Sultan Al Neyadi will blast into orbit in 2023

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The UAE has chosen Sultan Al Neyadi for a six-month mission to the International Space Station next year.

President Sheikh Mohamed congratulated the engineer and astronaut, who has spent the past four years in training.

He will lift off next spring on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Florida's Kennedy Space Centre.

“I am proud to congratulate Sultan Al Neyadi on being selected as the 1st Arab astronaut to spend 6 months on the International Space Station as part of a mission to commence in 2023,” Sheikh Mohamed said on Twitter.

This mission is a critical step toward realising the National Space Programme, making the UAE the 11th country globally to conduct a long-duration astronaut mission
Salem Al Marri, Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre

“This historic milestone builds on the strong foundations of the UAE’s burgeoning space programme.”

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, congratulated Dr Neyadi.

The achievements of the astronaut corps has led young Emiratis to “raise their heads to the stars”, he said.

Dr Al Neyadi, 41, will serve as mission specialist on the Nasa-SpaceX Crew 6 mission, which will include Nasa astronauts Stephen Bowen and Warren Hoburg and Russian cosmonaut Andrey Fedyaev.

Born in Al Ain, Dr Al Neyadi served in the Armed Forces as a network security engineer.

The father of five has a PhD in information technology from Australia’s Griffith University and a bachelor of science degree in electronics and communication engineering from the University of Brighton in England.

Dr Al Neyadi was one of more than 4,000 candidates in the search for the country's first two astronauts in 2018.

He and Maj Hazza Al Mansouri, a fighter pilot with the Air Force, were put through intensive training in Russia for the UAE's first mission to space.

Maj Al Mansouri spent eight days on the ISS in 2019 after blasting into orbit from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

Who is Emirati astronaut Sultan Al Neyadi?

Who is Emirati astronaut Sultan Al Neyadi?

'It's a very exciting time for us'

In an earlier interview with The National, Dr Al Neyadi said that the UAE's goal for its programme is to spend more time on the space station.

“The last mission that the UAE took part in was a short flight. The training we conducted in Russia was designated to accomplish that mission, which was successful by all means,” he said.

“And now, we have a lot of things to do. The goal is to spend more time in on board the ISS, and be engaged in different activities like conducting spacewalks and maintaining the station.

“So, I think it's a very exciting time for the UAE astronaut programme.”

From 2019 to early 2022, candidates completed basic training at Nasa's Johnson Space Centre in Houston, Texas.

After they graduated, they became eligible for Nasa-led missions to space.

As The National reported in May, Dr Al Neyadi was a leading candidate for the next space mission.

In Houston, they learnt how to perform spacewalks, understand the ISS's systems and learn how to use the Canadarm2 robotic arm.

Now, they are undergoing mission-specific training, which involves learning how to operate the Dragon Crew Capsule, which will be launch on Falcon 9 carrier rocket.

Dr Al Neyadi also posted photos of spacewalk training online, which means there is a possibility that he would venture outside the space station.

However, this depends on Nasa adding the task to the astronaut's to-do list while aboard the ISS.

If so, this will be the first Arab spacewalk.

Crew members regularly leave the orbiting laboratory to do repairs on the 20-year-old structure.

The third and fourth astronauts in the UAE's programme, mechanical engineer Nora Al Matrooshi and helicopter pilot Mohammed Al Mulla, are in earlier stages of their basic training.

Salem Al Marri, director-general of the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre — the organisation that oversees the country's astronaut programme — said that this latest mission will help to strengthen the UAE's relationship with Nasa.

“This mission is a critical step towards realising the National Space Programme, making the UAE the 11th country to conduct a long-duration astronaut mission,” he wrote on Twitter on Monday.

“This will strengthen co-operation with Nasa and allow us to complete long-term experiments aboard the ISS.”

The UAE purchased a seat on the Falcon 9 rocket from Axiom Space, a space infrastructure development company in Houston.

This is the Falcon 9 seat that Axiom Space was given by Nasa after the company gave up its Russian Soyuz rocket seat for American astronaut Mark Vande Hei in 2021.

MBRSC did not disclose how much they paid Axiom for the seat, but the agreement includes transport to and from the space station; comprehensive mission support; all necessary training and preparation for launch; flight operations, landing and crew rescue services.

Updated: June 07, 2023, 4:26 PM