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Sultan Al Neyadi and Hazza Al Mansouri, Emirati astronauts. Image Credit: Gulf News Archives

Dubai: The UAE’s Astronaut Programme has transformed the desert nation to a space pioneer in the region and demonstrates the country’s boundless ambitions.

As the second Emirati astronaut, Sultan Al Neyadi is just days away from lift-off to the International Space Station (ISS), here is a look at how the country’s ambitious Astronaut Programme began and how it is going.

The UAE Astronaut Programme prepares Emirati astronauts for manned missions to the ISS and other destinations in space, according to the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC) that was founded in 2006.

The first of its kind in the Arab world, the programme provides the necessary training, expertise, and qualification for Emirati cadres to represent the UAE, and the Arab world, in future space missions and to conduct scientific experiments that support the global space exploration process.

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The UAE Astronaut Programme was initiated in April 2017 by His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, President of the United Arab Emirates, and His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, to prepare an Emirati astronaut corps for scientific space exploration missions, creating a culture of scientific endeavour and motivating the youth to pursue space science and technology.

The UAE Astronaut Programme is funded by the ICT Fund of the Telecommunications and Digital Government Regulatory Authority (TDRA).

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Emirati astronauts Hazza Al Mansouri (right) and Sultan Al Neyadi, addressing a press conference about second batch of the UAE Astronaut Programme in Dubai on Tuesday 03 March 2020. Photo: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News

First batch and first mission

In 2018, astronauts Hazza Al Mansoori and Sultan Al Neyadi were selected, from a pool of more than 4000 applicants who applied to the UAE Astronaut Programme, to form the first batch of the programme. On September 25, 2019, Al Mansoori, the first Emirati astronaut carried out the first manned scientific mission into space for the UAE on board the International Space Station, under the slogan “Zayed’s Ambition.” Al Neyadi also underwent the same training programmes as a reserve astronaut.

Second batch

In 2021, the second batch of the UAE Astronaut Programme- first female Arab astronaut, Nora Al Matrooshi and Mohammad Al Mulla — was selected from 4,305 applicants.

The two astronauts from the second batch of the UAE Astronaut Programme joined the “2021 Nasa Astronaut Candidate Class,” as part of a joint strategic agreement between the UAE and the US, to train them at NASA’s Johnson Space Centre.

Second mission

In April 2022, the UAE announced the first long-duration Arab astronaut mission making the country the 11th only to send astronauts on long-duration space missions to the ISS.

In July 2022, His Highness Sheikh Mohamed and His Highness Sheikh Mohammed, announced the selection of astronaut Al Neyadi to participate in the first long-duration Arab astronaut mission.

He will take on this mission as part of NASA’s SpaceX Crew-6 where the crew members will be conducting large-scale scientific experiments.

During the mission, Al Neyadi will conduct a series of advanced experiments and research to reach important scientific results about outer space and participate in an awareness and educational programme involving researchers and students.

Crew-6 mission, which includes two US astronauts and a Russian cosmonaut along with Al Neyadi, now targets the lift-off at 10:45am on Monday, February 28.

The logo of the “UAE Mission 2” depicts an astronaut wearing the spacesuit and looking at a drawing of the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the UAE’s founding father, who had a vision and dream to send his country to space.

Future picture

To develop a sustainable astronaut programme, the UAE intends to obtain several spaceflights in the future. Also, the country is in discussions with Nasa about taking part in the Artemis programme, which aims to establish a human presence on the Moon.

With the ambitious space missions, it is likely that the country’s future astronauts will be part of the upcoming missions to the Moon, Mars and other planets.

The Emirates Mars Mission “Hope Probe” and the Emirates Lunar Mission “Rashid Rover,” are the other milestone achievements of the country in its ever-growing space expeditions.