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Hazza Al Mansouri and Sultan Al Neyadi at the press conference. Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan/Gulf News

Dubai: The UAE will join the ranks of 18 countries that have sent people to the International Space Station (ISS) by September 25. One of its two astronauts, Hazza Al Mansouri and Sultan Al Neyadi, will blast off to space on-board a Soyuz-MS15 spacecraft from Kazakhstan. From today until the launch date, both astronauts will continue their training at the Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Centre in Moscow to prepare for the historic flight.

What is the mission?

The pioneering mission to the ISS is part of the UAE Astronaut Programme that was launched by His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, and His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces in 2017, to train and prepare Emirati astronauts to travel to space on various scientific missions.

What trainings do the astronauts go through?

One of them is the Parabolic Flight Training where both astronauts practice donning the Sokol space suit weighing 10kg within 25 to 30 seconds in a micro-gravity environment. The astronauts also toss a board which weighs around 50kg to simulate handling instruments and tools in the work environment on board the ISS.

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The two Emirati astronauts during their Winter Survival Training, during which they braved the brutal weather of an unpopulated Russian forest on their own. Image Credit: Dubai Media Office

Another is the Pressure Chamber Test which simulates the elevation of the sea by 5 and 10 kilometres, which leads to lower atmospheric pressure and oxygen ratios than normal.

The Centrifuge Test is among the toughest ones where the astronauts are placed in a centrifuge to test the effects of high acceleration on the human body.

The Winter Survival Training, meanwhile, trains astronauts how to survive the brutal Russian winter in a forest on their own in case they are forced to make emergency landings anywhere, including in unpopulated, hard-to-reach terrain in various climatic and geographical areas. They are taught how to get out of a damaged capsule, build two types of shelters, utilise available resources, and communicate with research teams through visual signals by using flares or wireless communication.

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Emirati astronauts undergo winter survival training in Russia. Image Credit: Dubai Media Office

Why was the space flight moved from April 5 to September 25?

The flight had to be pushed back by about five months following an unprecedented mid-flight failure of a manned Soyuz-MS 10 spacecraft in October.

But the accident did not dampen the spirits of the two Emirati astronauts. During the press conference, Sultan said: “Space is a risky business. Accidents can happen. But you have to trust in your knowledge, in the equipment that you’re handling. The Soyuz programme is a very safe programme. Last October the failure happened, but the astronauts survived and will be launched again to space within one week. So we have to trust in the knowledge that we have, so I feel normal.”

What was the most challenging part of the whole journey?

Both Emiratis said the language barrier was a major issue in the beginning. Both have to learn how to speak and read Russian as the buttons and equipment on the ISS and the Soyuz-MS15 spacecraft are in Russian.

What is the International Space Station (ISS)?

The ISS is a habitable artificial satellite that is the single largest man-made structure in space. It’s a multi-nation construction project on a fixed low Earth orbit. Travelling at 28,000km/hour, the ISS can complete an entire orbit of our planet in just 90 minutes. This means the space station makes 16 orbits of the Earth, travelling through 16 sunrises and sunsets, in 24 hours.

The ISS is also the most unique human innovation ever created. An international crew of six people call ISS their home at any given time, spending several hours each per week conducting in-depth research across various disciplines ranging from space and physical sciences to biological and earth sciences, from the microgravity laboratory.

What research will the astronauts conduct on the ISS?

Salem Al Merri said the astronauts will conduct research in various fields specifically to show the effect of zero gravity on the human body in research experiments, compared to gravity on Earth. A research will be conducted on the reaction of vital indicators of the human body at ISS, in comparison with Earth, before and after the trip.

Why is only one Emirati flying to the ISS?

Emirati astronauts undergo winter survival training in Russia.

The Soyuz-MS15 spacecraft can only carry three crew at one time. It is 7.48 meters long with a maximum diameter of 2.72 meters, but its orbital module where the crew will be sitting has a habitable volume of only five cubic metres. In command of the September 25 flight will be a Russian commander, an American flight crew and an Emirati astronaut. An MBRSC official said the final names of the flight crew have not been announced yet, although Spacefacts.de said they are Oleg Skripochka and Christopher Cassidy.

What personal items can the astronauts take with them to the ISS?

Every crew member is entitled to bring only 1.5kg of personal items. Apart from their basic necessities, Sultan said his top three personal items would be a UAE flag, family photos, and his favourite books. Hazza said he’ll bring family photos, also the UAE flag, and “the dreams and ambitions of the UAE youth and the Arab region to the ISS”.