SpaceX’s Dragon capsule: UAE astronaut Sultan Al Neyadi’s fancy ride to orbit

Panoramic views of space and a toilet on board – it'll be a smooth 22-hour journey to the ISS

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Emirati astronaut Sultan Al Neyadi may look like a Stormtrooper from Star Wars when he launches into space next month, but the futuristic suit is what every passenger wears on a SpaceX flight.

And the spacecraft they launch on very much matches their appearance. It's a modern reusable capsule with a minimalistic design that features touch screens, spacious area for seven people and a luxury in space that every astronaut loves ― a working toilet.

Dr Al Neyadi, 41, will blast off with three colleagues on February 19 as part of the Crew-6 mission for a six-month stay on the International Space Station.

It is the first time an Arab astronaut will travel on a SpaceX rocket, unlike his colleague Hazza Al Mansouri, who flew on Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft in 2019 for an eight-day trip.

“It was an honour to be chosen for the first long-duration Arab astronaut mission,” Dr Al Neyadi tweeted in 2022.

“I'm prepared to take on this mission and raise our flag in space once more.”

The Dragon

The crew will use the Dragon capsule as their living quarters, as it embarks on an estimated a 22-hour cruise to the orbiting science laboratory.

But the experience will be very different to what astronauts on other missions have lived through, including on the Soyuz, Nasa’s Space Shuttle and during the Mercury and Gemini programmes.

Instead of panels filled with complicated knobs and buttons, the Crew Dragon is fitted with digital and touch interfaces that astronauts use to control the spacecraft.

Since achieving its first successful crew flight in 2020, the Dragon has carried 30 people into orbit.

Unlike on the Soyuz, Dragon astronauts can remove their spacesuits and move around freely while on board the capsule.

There are four leather seats, but the capsule can accommodate seven passengers.

Four windows in the cabin offer panoramic views of space.

Robert Behnken, one of the astronauts who was part of Dragon’s crew test flight in 2020, gave a live tour of the spacecraft while on the way to the space station.

“We each have a window that we can see what is going on each side, so that’s really cool,” he said.

The spacecraft flies and docks autonomously to the ISS, which the Soyuz can do, too.

But astronauts can also fly the capsule manually.

Mr Al Neyadi has received training at SpaceX’s headquarters in California on how to operate the Dragon.

Nature calls

But one feature astronauts are probably most grateful for is the toilet on the spacecraft.

While the Space Shuttle had one on board, those flying on the Soyuz must rely on diapers.

And Americans relied on the Soyuz for more than a decade after the Shuttle programme was dropped in 2011.

The Crew Dragon’s toilet is reportedly on top of the spacecraft and offers views of space through the glass cupola.

The bathroom facilities are working right now, but there was an incident in 2021 when a tube became loose, causing urine to leak on to the spacecraft floor.

Passengers were forced to wear diapers during that trip, but the toilet has been fixed since then.

Safety first

Before astronauts can go to space they have to spend two weeks in quarantine.

This is so they do not take any unwanted bacteria on to their spaceship and the space station, which could endanger other astronauts on board.

Dr Al Neyadi will enter his quarantine period in early February and will be released only on the day of the launch.

Who is Sultan Al Neyadi?

Updated: January 06, 2023, 6:10 PM
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