Space programme
The average age of the 14 applicants selected is 31 years, with the youngest candidate being 24 years old and the oldest at 38. Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: Fourteen candidates – nine men and five women – have qualified for the final phase of the second batch of the UAE Astronaut Programme, the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC) has announced on Wednesday.

The selected candidates will now undergo final interviews conducted by a committee consisting of specialists from MBRSC, including pioneering Emirati astronauts Hazzaa AlMansoori and Sultan AlNeyadi, along with NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) astronauts Anne McClain and Jessica Meir.

The UAE Astronaut Programme is part of the country’s National Space Programme aimed at training and preparing a team of Emiratis for scientific space missions. Two final candidates will be selected for the UAE Astronaut Programme.

“The average age of the 14 applicants is 31 years, with the youngest candidate being 24 years old and the oldest at 38. The applicants have diverse educational backgrounds – nine of them hold a bachelor’s degree; four a master’s degree; and one with a doctorate degree. In terms of professional backgrounds, nine candidates were from the engineering sector, four from the aviation sector and one from metrology,” the MBRSC said in a statement sent to Gulf News.

“The two astronauts from the second batch of the UAE Astronaut Programme will join the ‘2021 NASA Astronaut Candidate Class’, as part of a joint strategic agreement between the UAE and the United States of America, to train them at NASA’s Johnson Space Center. The new astronauts will undergo a training plan within the UAE to ensure that they are ready to train with NASA astronauts,” it added.

Over 4,000 initial applicants

According to MBRSC, a total of 4,305 applicants applied for the second batch of the UAE Astronaut Programme, a seven per cent increase from the first batch. The list was initially trimmed to 2,099 applicants based on their age, educational background, and scientific research experience. The applicants then underwent IQ, personality, and technical assessments, after which, 1,000 candidates were selected.

Virtual assessments

Following the evaluation of 1,000 candidates, MBRSC selected the top 122 applicants, who were then interviewed virtually. Based on the interviews, the 122 candidates were further evaluated, bringing down the shortlist to 61 applicants.

After thorough medical examinations, the 61 shortlisted candidates were pared down to 30, who moved to the interview phase.

Readying for space missions

MBRSC said they are now in the process of completing the final interviews with the shortlisted 14 candidates. Those who pass the final interview phase will undergo a final evaluation process, consisting of interviews conducted by a committee of specialists at MBRSC, after which the two final candidates for the second batch of the UAE Astronaut Programme will be selected.

Yousuf Hamad AlShaibani, director General, MBRSC, said: “We have reached an important stage in the programme to select the second batch of Emirati astronauts. The final phase of assessments by Emirati astronauts Hazzaa and Sultan, and NASA astronauts, adds another dimension to the programme and increases the efficiency of the evaluation process.”

Salem AlMarri, assistant director general for Scientific and Technical Affairs and Head of the UAE Astronaut Programme at MBRSC, added: “MBRSC seeks to prepare national cadres who can contribute to knowledge sharing in the space sector. This will further equip the space sector with trained and expert personnel who will enable us to participate in future space exploration missions. The goal of the UAE Astronaut Programme is to establish a sustainable programme for the coming years.