UAE astronaut Sultan Al Neyadi's historic mission in space will help boost Arab capabilities in the sector, a renowned scientist has said.
Dr Farouk El Baz, an Egyptian-American scientist who worked on America’s Apollo programme in the 1960s, told The National that Dr Al Neyadi's six-month stint on the International Space Station had helped provide crucial data on how microgravity affects the human body.
The Emirati astronaut returned to the UAE on Monday and received a grand reception, with President Sheikh Mohamed and Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, who received him at the Abu Dhabi International Airport.
“Not only has it propelled Arab capabilities in space, but this mission, being the first with Arab involvement, holds immense value for the scientific community,” said Dr El Baz, who is currently the director of the Remote Sensing Applications Centre at Boston University.
“The mission yielded pivotal data, especially on human physiology in microgravity, essential for preparing for Mars missions.”
Crucial science work on the ISS
Dr Al Neyadi became the first Arab to carry out an extended space mission, as well as the first Arab to perform a spacewalk.
He took part in more than 200 experiments on the orbiting outpost that were assigned to him by Nasa and universities in the UAE.
Many of them focused on how the environment of space affects the mind and body, as well as research that could help advance treatment options for cancer and osteoporosis.
Salem Al Marri, director general of the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre, which oversees the UAE's astronaut programme, told The National that Dr Al Neyadi had also participated in dental research aboard the ISS.
Under the study, from the Mohammed bin Rashid University of Medicine, 10 doctors investigated how microgravity influences dental health.
They tracked Dr Al Neyadi's dental status before, during and after the mission.
“In another breakthrough, Sultan spearheaded experiments to cultivate tomatoes and lettuce in space, verifying their edibility and health benefits,” said Mr Al Marri.
Future Mars missions
Emirati space officials are also hoping that the mission would also help boost the UAE's space programme, including preparing for future missions to the Moon and Mars.
The country has a Mars 2117 strategy, which aims to build a human settlement on the Red Planet by the year 2117.
“Sultan's mission encapsulates a chapter in the blueprint for extended human space travels,” said Mr Al Marri.
He said he believes humans will be ready for trips to Mars 2040, but the Moon will be the first stop.
Space agencies such as Nasa have now shifted focus to the Moon, with the International Space Station nearing retirement.
The plan is to use the Moon as a base for astronauts and then eventually launch to Mars from there in future.
“Almost half a century post the last lunar visit, there's a compelling scientific rationale to return,” said Mr Al Marri.
“I project a lunar revisit within the coming decade, which, in essence, will be a precursor to Mars missions.”
On February 9, 2021, the UAE became the fifth country to reach Mars when its Hope probe successfully entered the planet's orbit.
Since then, it has been sending back data that has been helping the scientific community better understand the planet's atmosphere and learn why it became uninhabitable.