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Three generations of a family in race to be UAE’s first astronaut

34% women among 4,022 Emiratis applied to be country’s first four space explorers

Image Credit: Mohammad Bin Rashid Space Centre
In 2117, the UAE aims to build the first human settlement on Mars.
Gulf News

Dubai: More than 4,000 Emiratis, including a 67-year-old man and three generations of a family, applied to be the first four UAE astronauts, officials announced on Monday. Out of the final four, one will be chosen to go on a space mission after 2022, they said.

The Mohammad Bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC) revealed the final results of the application process for the UAE Astronaut Programme, which ran from December 6 last year to March 31.

A total of 4,022 Emiratis applied with 34 per cent of them being women. The applicants are from 38 different work fields, and aged between 17 and 67.

Yousuf Al Shaibani, MBRSC Director-General, said the centre is delighted with the volume of entries they received and are highly impressed with applicants’ diverse skill sets and backgrounds.

“The success of this programme is underpinned by the talent we hone and we are looking forward to training a skilled team of individuals to represent our country on board the International Space Station (ISS) and contribute to the various experiments and research areas there,” Al Shaibani said.

The final four astronauts represent only 0.1 per cent of the total Emiratis who applied, said Salem Al Merri, MBRSC Assistant Director-General for Scientific and Technical Affairs and programme manager of UAE Astronaut Programme.

“Unfortunately, 99.9 per cent of the applicants will not be successful so we’d be choosing the best of the best. The diversity [of the applications received] showcases that our society is on board with this mission. They’re excited about this mission. Young and old want to be a part of it,” Al Merri told Gulf News.

“Out of the final four that will be selected after the training process, one astronaut will be sent to the ISS after 2022,” Al Merri said.

Amel Abdullah Ameen, Head of Education at MBRSC and selection lead for UAE Astronaut Programme, explained that the ISS only accommodates six astronauts at a given time. The remaining three UAE astronauts will, therefore, be sent to space on a rotation basis.

Al Merri said one of the most inspiring things he saw during the application process was when three generations from one family showed interest.

“There were people who came to us who are in their 50s and 60s who said the programme was something they were dreaming about in the 70s when they saw people landing on the surface of the moon. They thought ‘Will the UAE be able to do this?’ And they thought, ‘Is it too late for us?’” Al Merri said.

“Some of them applied and they also encouraged their children and their grandchildren to apply. For us to see a whole family applying to become part of the UAE’s first mission showcases that dreams are crossing different ages and we’ve been able to make people’s dream come true through this programme,” he added.

A Selection Committee has been appointed to screen the applications and shortlist suitable candidates for the next phase of the selection process.

Ameen said the candidates they’re looking for have to be emotionally stable, healthy and well-rounded. He or she also has to be an analytical thinker and must be able to cope and thrive even in tough situations.

How the programme works

■ Phase 1: Began December 2017
■ Online application
■ Psychometrics, written exam and initial medical assessment
■ First interview

■ Phase 2: Till the end of 2018
■ Intensive medical test
■ Advanced psychometric test
■ Second interview

Highlights:
200 will be chosen from 4,022 applicants, and this will be narrowed down to 30 candidates. The top four candidates will be the UAE’s first astronauts.

Biggest number of applications came from Abu Dhabi, and engineers topped the number of applications.

Scientific proposals revolve around six key areas: Food security and sustainability, sustainable source of water, human life support, energy and power management, advancing material science, and planetary contamination management.

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