Nat_190905 Emirati Astronaut Hazza Al Mansouri and Sultan Al Neyadi
Emirati astronaut Hazza Al Mansoori and his backup Emirati astronaut Sultan Al Neyadi. Image Credit: Janice Ponce de Leon, Staff Reporter

Dubai: Going to space is serious business. But who says our Emirati astronauts can’t have fun in the process?

The UAE’s first Emirati astronaut Hazza Al Mansoori and back-up astronaut Sultan Al Neyadi are currently in Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan for the country’s first mission to the International Space Station (ISS) on September 25 at 5.56pm (UAE time).

Hazza will join prime crew Russian commander Oleg Skripochka and Nasa astronaut Jessica Meir on their voyage onboard the Soyuz MS-15 spacecraft.

Sultan is on standby with his fellow reserve crew Sergey Ryzhikov, and Nasa astronaut Thomas Marshburn.

Amidst their fully-packed schedules on the last two weeks of preparation and what could be a nerve-wracking isolation phase, both showcased their dedication to the mission in the service of their country.

But we also got to see the lighter side of our reserve astronaut Sultan.

During one of their recent fit-checks to check their spacesuit, equipment, spacecraft and everything related to the mission, Sultan shared some photos on Twitter with a light-hearted caption.

“During the first fit-check of my Sokol space suit in Baikonur, I had a chance to test my modest Jiu jitsu skills,” Sultan said, showing a photo of himself smiling while “subduing” the Sokol space suit using a rear choke technique.

“To all jiu jitsu practitioners! Do not attempt to submit an astronaut! It won’t work! They literally have no necks and their joints are very flexible!” he tweeted in jest.

He ended the tweet with an “OSS”, which is a term in the Japanese martial arts that has several meanings, one of which is to offer a piece of information before a fight.

The photo also showed the father of four in a fighting stance and beaming while lifting the 10-kg Sokol space suit.

The 10-day countdown for the lift-off has begun for the astronauts who will make history by raising the UAE flag on the ISS. Hazza, a military pilot, is the prime candidate but he and Sultan have been training side by side for the past year so Sultan can take over should the need arise.

Sultan, an engineer with a doctorate in IT, is one of the two selected astronauts out of 4,000 for the UAE Astronaut Programme. He served in the military and then later pursued higher education in the UK and received a Bachelor’s degree in Science in Electronics and Communications Engineering from the University of Brighton. He also studied in Australia to get his masters and doctorate degree in Data Leak Age Prevention and published six research papers internationally.

Throughout the selection process and training, Sultan, like Hazza, showed great promise, high mental abilities and fitness.

He heeded the call to represent the UAE in space exploration in December 2017 after visiting the Science Event of the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre with his daughter, Reem, who shares his passion for space.