Sultan Saif AlNeyadi new official pic
Sultan Al Neyadi has a PhD in Information Technology (Data Leakage Prevention) and practices Jujitsu Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: For the past six months, millions of UAE residents and space enthusiasts from around the world have been enjoying insights to life and work onboard the International Space Station (ISS), latest experiments in microgravity and stunning visuals of Earth captured from space.

It’s all thanks to videos and pictures shared by Sultan Al Neyadi, the UAE astronaut who has completed the longest Arab space mission, during which he became the first Arab to perform a spacewalk.

Who is Al Neyadi?

The 42-year-old is one of the first two Emirati astronauts (the first one being Hazzaa Al Mansoori), who were named in 2018.

Al Neyadi, fondly known as the ‘Sultan of Space’, is from the Al Ain region in the UAE. He was born on May 23, 1981, in Umm Ghafa, 30km southeast of Al Ain. He completed his schooling in Al Ain.

Further studies

Al Neyadi was interested in communications engineering and travelled to the UK for his higher education, where he earned a bachelor’s of science degree in Electronics and Communications Engineering from the University of Brighton.

Al Neyadi’s father, Saif Al Neyadi, has served in the military. In his footsteps, Al Neyadi too joined the UAE Armed Forces upon his return from the UK.

With a passion to keep learning, Al Neyadi went to Australia to pursue a master’s degree in Information Technology from Griffith University in 2008.

After a successful educational endeavor there, Al Neyadi started his career as a Network Security Engineer for the UAE Armed Forces. His work saw his visit over 20 countries.

Al Neyadi aspired to study further and in 2012 returned to Australia, where he was based for five years. He obtained a PhD in Information Technology (Data Leakage Prevention) and also published six research papers.

Astronomical ambition

Back in the UAE, Al Neyadi – who used to gaze upon the heavens from the desert as a child – turned his ambitions towards space.

The UAE Astronaut Programme had just been launched, in 2017, and Al Neyadi – along with Hazzaa Al Mansoori – surpassed 4,000 candidates to prove his mettle for the UAE’s first space mission.

Al Neyadi (right) with Al Mansoori during their training in Russia Image Credit: WAM

Al Neyadi was the backup for Al Mansoori who became the first Emirati astronaut to go to space in September 2019.

Training for space

The duo trained at various astronaut and cosmonaut training centres in the US, Russia, Germany and elsewhere, completing over 90 courses and more than 1,400 hours of training.

After Al Mansoori’s successful space mission on ISS, they prepared for the UAE’s second mission – the longest Arab space mission lasting six months onboard the ISS.

Al Neyadi had already 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.

This time, for UAE Mission 2, Al Mansoori was Al Neyadi’s backup.

Al Neyadi underwent 20 months of training at Johnson Space Center, including spacewalks, robotics and science experiments.

After preparing further for the mission – in Houston, Texas, as well as at centres in Florida and California – Al Neyadi completed his training at NASA’s Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory.

Off to space

In March, Al Neyadi blasted off to space for his mission. Al Neyadi served as 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.

UAE space
Al Neyadi inside the space station before his historic spacewalk Image Credit: Supplied

Six months later, on September 4, Al Neyadi and Crew-6 returned to Earth after a successful mission.

Al Neyadi is a father of six and very popular with students, who had a chance to interact with him during his live ‘Call from Space’ events.

The astronaut is proficient in martial arts, and became the first person to practice jiu-jitsu in space, in May, during his time onboard the ISS.