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UAE astronaut Sultan Al Neyadi, talking to students gathered at his hometown Al Ain on his birthday from the International Space Station (ISS) on Tuesday Image Credit: MBRSC/Screen grab

Al Ain: On a special call from space to ground on his birthday on Tuesday, UAE astronaut Sultan Al Neyadi, who is on the longest Arab space mission on the International Space Station (ISS) since March, expressed his longing for his mother’s food.

“I miss my mother’s cooking,” he told the audience of the event “A Call from Space” event organised at his hometown, Al Ain, by the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre, the agency behind the UAE Astronaut Programme.

The Emirati astronaut, who blasted off to ISS on the Nasa SpaceX Crew-6 mission on March 2, turned 42 on Tuesday. His remarks about missing his mother’s food came as he replied to a question by a student on where he preferred to live — on Earth with gravity or in space without gravity.

While he enjoys weightlessness in the microgravity environment of the orbital laboratory, Al Neyadi said astronauts do miss many things on Earth.

“You can do all kinds of moves in your mind. Anything that you imagine. That is something very fun,” he said, as he displayed a forward somersault.

“But with time, you miss your family, your loved ones, you miss cooked food. Usually, our food is well prepared.”

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Al Neyadi then showed some samples of the space food stored in special foil pouches and explained that the water content in space food is removed to prevent spoilage and most of the food is in dried form.

“So we astronauts sometimes miss the usual food that is traditionally cooked food. I miss my mother’s cooking. These are some of the things that I miss [in space.”

Al Neyadi said there is a long list of food that the astronauts try on a daily basis.

“We have meat, vegetables and even candies. These foods are usually dried up and sometimes they need to be reheated. We have the recycled food that we eat. I have dates and other food materials from the UAE.”

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UAE astronaut Sultan Al Neyadi, talking to students gathered at his hometown Al Ain on his birthday from the International Space Station (ISS) on Tuesday Image Credit: MBRSC/screen grab

Sheikh Saif first to speak

Around 2000 university and school students attended the Al Ain edition of the ‘A Call from Space’ event at the UAE University which was held in the presence of Lieutenant General Sheikh Saif Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of the Interior and Salam Humaid Al Marri, director general of MBRSC and other officials.

Accompanied by a young child on his arrival, Sheikh Saif began the conversation with Al Neyadi. He thanked the leaders of the country for enabling the audience to speak with the country’s pride Al Neyadi from his hometown and conveyed his thanks and appreciation for the team behind the mission.

Al Neyadi also thanked the country’s visionary leaders for their support and said he was extremely happy to attend the event with Sheikh Saif in attendance.

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A student asks a question to Sultan Al Neyadi during the Al Ain edition of the “A Call from Space” event organised by the MBRSC at UAE University on Tuesday

Nothing is impossible

While speaking about being the first Arab astronaut to conduct a spacewalk outside the ISS, Al Neyadi emphasised to students that nothing is beyond the reach of the Arab youth, inspiring them with a message.

He spoke about putting the nation’s slogan ‘Nothing is Impossible’ along with its logo on a notebook on the cuff of his spacesuit during this historic spacewalk on April 28.

“When we were depressurising and reaching the vacuum of space, I saw this message … and that reminded me again that there is nothing that is impossible. It is actually the goal of the UAE. Our leadership is helping us to proceed in all advancements in technology and the achievement of science. So, this is really a strong message for all you guys — nothing is impossible.”

On what he felt being the first UAE astronaut to go to space for a six-month mission, he said: “You carry on your shoulder, the flag of your country. You are an ambassador of your country. From the beginning I knew the responsibility that I have. Six months is not very easy. But the goal is normal as nothing is impossible for us as a nation. The youth of the Arab world have a lot of ambitions to achieve. I believe in this strongly and this belief is my motivation. I also appreciate the support from all the people who trained me for this mission and the support from the leadership … My ambition is to continue this mission and return safely.”

He said the understanding of the magnitude of what he was doing during the seven-hour spacewalk kept him going during the out-of-the-world task in outer space which is often described as one of the riskiest jobs of an astronaut.

“It is important to represent the UAE professionally and we do everything just perfectly.”

Great feeling

Al Neyadi said it was a great feeling to be on the ISS. “It’s a great place that has been around for … more than 20 years now. We conduct all sorts of science that can help humanity back on Earth. I’m here on a scientific mission that will last six months. And we are already halfway through. We achieved a lot and we communicate all the findings every day to the scientists working on it on the ground. We work as a scientific team. We’re here on-board the International Space Station for the sake of humanity and my feeling is great. I’m representing the UAE, representing the nation for a good cause. And hopefully we’ll come back and share these moments with everybody including students that are watching us right now.”

The country’s second astronaut also answered questions on sleeping and waste recycling on the ISS among others.

He also took the opportunity to show ‘the little astronaut’ Suhail to the students. The stuffed toy mascot of MBRSC is accompanying Al Neyadi in the mission as the zero-gravity indicator. “This is Suhail wearing the Eid kandura. I am dedicating him to you,” Al Neyadi said as he floated Suhail forward before bidding bye.