The International Space Station (photo credit: ?NASA) (photo credit: ?NASA)


The first two Emiratis astronauts chosen on Monday to represent the UAE in space have said their historical space flight to the International Space Station (ISS) on April 5, 2019 will be a “mission for the country”.

His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, on Monday announced that Hazza Ali Obdan Khalifa Al Mansouri and Sultan Saif Muftah Hamad Al Niyadi from the UAE will be the first astronauts in training as part of the country’s Astronauts Programme. The two were selected as part of UAE Astronaut Hunt programme from an applicant-pool of 4,022 Emiratis who were tested and interviewed as part of the selection process which started in December 2017.

The duo were chosen by the UAE Space Agency, in cooperation with the Russian Space Agency, Roscosmos.

One of them will become the first Emirati astronaut in space on April 5 when he is sent on a 10-day Russian mission on board a Soyuz-MS 12 spacecraft. The second astronaut will serve as a reserve for the first astronaut.

On the occasion, Shaikh Mohammad congratulated Al Mansouri, who is a military pilot, and Al Niyadi, who holds a doctorate in Information Technology.

“Hazza and Sultan represent a new phase for Emirati youth, and they will raise the ceiling of ambitions for future generations. Our dreams embrace space, our youth make us proud, and our future is based on a firm scientific foundation,” Shaikh Mohammad said.

“We are the only country in the region that has a Mars probe programme, and we have the capabilities to fully manufacture satellites. We have Emirati astronauts and a space sector with investments valued at Dh20 billion. More importantly, the sky is the limit for our peoples’ ambitions. In summary: Arab people can achieve, if given the suitable conditions, and the Emirati youth are representing all Arab youth,” he added.

In his message, His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Abu Dhabi Crown Prince and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, congratulated Al Mansouri and Al Niyadi on passing the tests and proving their capabilities in the programme. “Just like space, our ambitions are unlimited when it comes to accomplishing more achievements for our nations,” said Shaikh Mohammad, who pointed out that the UAE, under the leadership of President His Highness Shaikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, is keen on making an effective contribution in mankind’s journey to space.

Al Mansouri and Al Niyadi were chosen after they passed six stages of medical, psychological and advanced tests, in addition to series of interviews with Nasa and medical tests at Roscosmos.

Dr Ahmad Abdullah Humaid Bel Houl Al Falasi, Minister of State for Higher Education and Advanced Skills and Chairman of the UAE Space Agency, said that the announcement on Emirati astronauts puts the country in a competitive position that allows it to stand proud with other nations. He said that the astronauts will represent the UAE on their journey towards new horizons.

Dr Mohammad Nasser Al Ahbabi, Director-General of the UAE Space Agency, said that courageous Emirati men will travel into space and be shining examples for a country that was established only a few decades ago.

The two astronauts-in-training are currently at the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Centre in Star City, just outside Moscow in Russia, said Salem Al Merri, assistant director-general for Scientific and Technical Affairs at the Mohammad Bin Rashid Space Centre and head of the Higher Committee of the UAE Astronauts Programme.

Al Merri said the agency has not yet decided on who will fly first and who will be the reserve astronaut. But the announcement will be made in the next couple of months.

“We had a lot of really good candidates. It wasn’t easy selecting these two. But these two, Hazza and Sultan, had something special. They really show that they are willing to learn. They’re willing to go back to step one to learn new and basic things like what an astronaut is. These are the important key factors that gave them the edge,” Al Merri told Gulf News.

The chosen Emirati astronaut will be flying to space with Christina Hammok-Koch, an American astronaut, and Oleg Skripochka, a Russian cosmonaut, he said.

“They will spend the next eight months training predominantly in Russia. They will also go to the US at the Johnson Space Centre to train, and in a European Space Agency facility in Europe. Their life now is training and preparing for this flight,” Al Merri said.

“Both of them are family men. This is obviously an important mission for them. Human space-flight is not without its dangers so it’s obviously a dangerous mission. They have to train well. This is why it’s very important that they’re focused on the training. It’s a very serious mission that they’re on,” he added.


Hazza Ali Obdan Khalfan Al Mansouri is 34 years old, and holder of a Bachelor’s Degree in Aviation Sciences (Military Pilot) from the Khalifa Bin Zayed Air College. Al Mansouri has 14 years of experience in the airforce, and underwent a number of airforce training programmes in the UAE and abroad. He is married with four kids and is from Abu Dhabi.

“Hazza is a military pilot who has a lot of experience in flying the F16, and has a lot of capabilities in working under pressure, working under a very high intense environment,” Al Merri said, describing Hazza.

“Hazza is very dedicated. He comes from a military background. He looks at this mission as a mission for the country. He doesn’t look at it as a personal mission or ‘I will be the first Emirati astronaut’ or ‘I will be the second’. The word ‘I’ doesn’t feature in his vocabulary. He is only looking at it as a mission for the UAE and I think that’s something that we’re proud of. He has a lot of experience and he’s very humble. I think he’s a model for this programme,” he added.

Sultan Saif Muftah Hamad Al Niyadi is 37 years old, and holds a PhD in Information Technology (Data Leakage Prevention) and a Master’s Degree in information and network security, both from the Griffith University in Australia, as well as a Bachelor’s Degree in Electronic and Telecommunications Engineering from the UK’s Brighton University. He is married with three kids and also hails from Abu Dhabi.

“Sultan has got a PhD and is a very strong and knowledgeable engineer. He is also very smart. He’s very calculated. He’s looking at this also as a mission for the country. He’s very calm, very calculated in terms of the actions that he takes. He can think very well under pressure. He’s very well educated, up to PhD level and also a very good candidate for this programme,” Salem said, describing Sultan.

Where are they now?

The two Emiratis are at the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Centre in Star City, named after Yuri Gagarin, a military fighter pilot and cosmonaut and the first man in space.