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Emirati astronaut Sultan Al Neyadi, during the press conference to announce the date of the Emirati astronauts trip to the International Space Station (ISS) at Armani Hotel in Dubai. Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan/Gulf News

Dubai: We first learned of him when his name was announced along with that of Hazzaa Al Mansoori in September 2018 as the first two Emirati astronauts.

Today, Sultan Al Neyadi is known as the “Sultan of Space” who is set to make every Arab citizen proud by embarking on the first Arab long-duration space mission aboard the International Space Station (ISS).

From an Al Ain boy to Sultan of Space, the journey of Al Neyadi has been literally astronomical. With his historic liftoff scheduled to happen in just a few days, here is what you need to know about him.

Al Neyadi’s full name is Sultan Saif Hamad Al Neyadi. He was born on May 23, 1981, in Umm Ghafa, 30 kilometers southeast of Al Ain. His primary and secondary education was in Al Ain itself.

Obviously, he was an excellent student and he decided to follow in the footsteps of his father who served in the military.

Al Neyadi joined the UAE Armed Forces and was assigned to study Communications Engineering. He went to the UK for his higher education. He received a Bachelor’s degree of Science in Electronics and Communications Engineering from the University of Brighton.

Passionate student

On his return, he began serving for the Armed Forces. However, Al Neyadi was passionate about studying further.

He later headed to Australia and received his Master’s degree in Information Technology from Griffith University in 2008.

When he came back again, Al Neyadi worked as a Network Security Engineer for the Armed Forces. During his career, he visited more than 20 countries.

Again in 2012, he returned to Australia for five years, where he earned a PhD in Information Technology (Data Leakage Prevention). He also published six research papers on international websites.

Emirati astronaut, Sultan AlNeyadi. Official picture Photo Date: March 7, 2022. UAE astronaut; portrait; Al Neyadi; Image Credit: Gulf News Archives

Sojourn to space

Al Neyadi sojourn to space began after he applied for the UAE Astronaut Programme that was launched in 2017. Among more than 4,000 candidates, he and Hazza Al Mansoori were chosen for the UAE’ first space mission.

Though he rightfully has a doctor prefix to his name, Al Neyadi prefers to be known as Astro Al Neyadi on social media.

He was named the backup for Al Mansoori who became the first Emirati astronaut to go to space in September 2019. During the one-year run up to the mission under the slogan ‘Zayed’s Ambition,’ both the astronauts underwent rigorous training programmes.

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Rigorous training

They trained at various astronaut and cosmonaut training centres in the US, Russia, Germany etc. The duo completed more than 90 courses and clocked in more than 1,400 hours of training.

After the successful first space mission, the astronauts’ training continued for the UAE’s second mission, which will become the first long-duration space mission by any Arab astronaut.

Al Neyadi had successfully completed his first year of training at NASA’s Johnson Space Centre in 2021, becoming officially certified to work as an operator onboard the ISS.

With Al Mansoori as his backup this time, Al Neyadi was last year named as the prime astronaut of the UAE Mission 2.

He was granted the NASA astronaut’s pin after completing around 20 months of general training at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in May 2022. His training included spacewalks, robotics and science experiments.

Since his NASA graduation, Al Neyadi has been preparing for the mission in Houston, Texas, as well as at centres in Florida and California. He completed his training in NASA’s Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory (NBL) last week.

Al Neyadi is a mission specialist of the SpaceX Crew-6, the sixth crewed operational NASA Commercial Crew flight of a Crew Dragon spacecraft, and the ninth overall crewed orbital flight. Once aboard the ISS, he will be the flight engineer. He will spend six months in the orbiting laboratory during which he will carry out almost 20 experiments.

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Sultan Al Neyadi, Emirati Astronaut, at MBRSC, during the press conference at Dubai Government of Media Office in Dubai. 12th November 2019. Photo: Ahmed Ramzan/ Gulf News

Space celebrations of 'najmonaut'

He could also be possibly the first ‘najmonaut’ to perform the first spacewalk. Najmonaut is a word coined to refer to an Arab astronaut. Najm means star in Arabic.

Al Neyadi is a father-of-five and he will celebrate Ramadan, Eid-Al Fitr, Eid Al Adha and his 42nd birthday in space during his six-month stay in space.

In September 2022, the UAE President His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan visited Al Neyadi’s house in Al Ain.

Currently, Al Neyadi is continuing his quarantine at NASA’s Kennedy Space Centre in Florida. Most of his immediate and extended family members along with officials from the UAE’s Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre are also camping in Florida to witness his liftoff along with two US astronauts and a Russian cosmonaut.

The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying the Crew-6 Dragon spacecraft named Endeavour is targeting its liftoff at 10:45am on Monday, February 27.

Once Al Neyadi completes his mission, the UAE will become only the 11th country to carry out a long-duration astronaut mission.