20232102 nasa crew
Astronaut Sultan AlNeyadi, Mission Specialist, Primary Crew, Crew-6, heading to the Kennedy Space Center, 5 days before the launch of the mission. Image Credit: Twitter/NASA's Johnson Space Center

Dubai: Emirati astronaut Sultan Al Neyadi will study heart tissues, do jiu-jitsu and share dates with his colleagues in Ramdan during his six-month mission on board the International Space Station (ISS), it was revealed on Tuesday night.

The UAE’s second astronaut, who is slated to take off on a Space X spacecraft, Crew-6 Dragon (Dragon Endeavour), for the first long-duration Arab astronaut mission on February 27, revealed these details after he arrived at NASA’s Kennedy Space Centre (KSC) in Florida ahead of the launch.

Al Neyadi, 41, and the three other crew members of Crew-6 Dragon addressed the media after landing at KSC, keeping a distance of several metres away from the media team and officials as they are still in a mandatory quarantine period ahead of the mission. The press conference was held just hours before the announcement about postponing the mission by a day was made.

Addressing questions about what he would be carrying with him, Al Neyadi said he would share some Emirati food, particularly dates on board the ISS.

“I love dates. I'm going to take dates, and hopefully I'm going to share this with everybody, especially in Ramadan. This is a request from the commander and I cannot say no to my commander [Stephen Bowen],” he said, chuckling.

Another item that Al Neyadi will be carrying with him is a jiu-jitsu kimono. “I am a jiu-jitsu practitioner. I train doing jiu-jitsu. So I have a kimono that I am gonna wear on board and probably do some moves,” he said.

Hands, eyes and ears of scientists

On a more serious note, Al Neyadi, who is set to become the flight engineer for Expedition 69 once aboard the ISS, also revealed some details about the scientific research that he will be part of.

“One very interesting experiment that I'm really looking to see is seeing the heart tissue beating in space. So this is something like cutting-edge technology that one day we can [use] when we start 3D-printing organs… This is really important to see how the structure is built in microgravity. So this can give us a really good insight into how these tissues are built. So one of them is testing hard tissues.”

He said the crew will also do research in materials science.

“We're going to test fluidics, we're going to test the materials and how they burn in space. And this is for future missions when we go to the lunar surface again or go to another planet. So we need to test materials and how they react in microgravity and different atmospheres, let's say on Mars, for example. So a lot of excitement…I'm really excited to conduct a lot of [scientific experiments] and communicate whatever we have back to the people on earth.”

Al Neyadi said all the crew members had received training cutting-edge technologies during their preparation for the mission.

“We are all trained to conduct a lot of [scientific experiments]. And we'll be the hands, the eyes, the ears of the scientists who are working for years for a specific experiment. Some of the experiments are ongoing, some of them are ending soon and some of them are just starting,” he said.

Ready and thirsty for more knowledge

Emphasising the readiness of the team, Al Neyadi said: “We are ready physically, mentally and technically for this mission, through which we aim to share knowledge and spread enthusiasm for space exploration.”

Al Neyadi also expressed his excitement about the possibility of two Saudi astronauts joining him during the six-month exploration on the ISS.

Earlier this month, the Saudi Space Commission had announced that Rayyanah Barnawi, the first Saudi woman astronaut, and Ali Alqarni would be part of the Ax-2 mission to the ISS scheduled for launch in the second quarter of this year on a SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft.

“I think it’s gonna be really exciting and really interesting,” said Al Neyadi.

He pointed out that Prince Sultan bin Salman was the first Arab astronaut to go to space in 1985, followed by a Syrian astronaut in 1987. “[The UAE’s] Hazzaa Al Mansoori was the third in 2019, and I will be the fourth.”

He added, "Our region is thirsty to learn more and I think we will be the ambassadors in these missions. Hopefully, we can come back with knowledge and share whatever we learn with everybody.”

Al Neyadi also thanked “all those who supported in preparing us for this mission, including our trainers, space agencies, my family as well as my colleagues and team.”

Historic mission

Among the other speakers were the other three crew members Nasa astronauts Steve Bowen and Warren Hoburg and Roscosmos cosmonaut Andrey Fedyaev, Salem Humaid Al Marri, director general of the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre and NASA officials.

Al Marri spoke about the strategic importance of this mission for the UAE space sector. “This is honestly a very historic mission for us. Our [space] programme is quite new. We started in 2017. And for us to be the first non-ISS partner to go on a long duration mission, [and] to be the 10th or 11th country to go on a long duration mission, that is not something that we take lightly. We have a big team of over 100 people working behind the scenes, to make sure that everything that the UAE part has to do with this mission is successful, as well as what Sultan and the team have to do together to make this expedition a success. So, for us, again, it's a historic mission. We're very excited.”