NASA's SpaceX Crew-6 mission astronaut the United Arab Emirates' Sultan Al Neyadi waves as he departs for the launch pad before launch to the International Space Station from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, on February 26, 2023.
File photo of Sultan Al Neyadi before the launch to the International Space Station from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, in February Image Credit: Reuters

Dubai: UAE astronaut Sultan Al Neyadi will be welcomed back to Earth by his family and a team from the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC) in Dubai, top officials of MBRSC said on Sunday.

Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai, Chairman of the Executive Council of Dubai, and President of MBRSC, led wishes for his safe return, in a video montage of images and clips showing key moments from Al Neyadi's six months onboard the International Space Station (ISS). 

After spending 186 days in space, the Emirati astronaut is expected to splash down off the coast of Florida in the US waters along with NASA SpaceX Crew-6 members by 8.17am UAE time on Monday.

Upon their landing in the sea, a team from NASA, other agencies, and MBRSC will be present at the spacecraft’s landing site to welcome Crew-6 and Al Neyadi, said Adnan Al Rais, mission manager, UAE Astronaut Programme.

“After that, the crew will move to the rescue ship. The rescue team will assess the overall health and situation of the astronauts following which they will be sent to the airport and to Houston where they will start the rehabilitation phase,” he said.

Salem Humaid Al Marri, director-general of MBRSC, said Al Neyadi’s family members also have flown into the US to receive him. “His brothers, his wife, his father—a big group is here to welcome him and spend some time with him,” he added.

Al Marri said Al Neyadi misses his family and wants to see them. Al Marri said he was optimistic that Al Neyadi would give a positive response if he was asked to continue in space for another six months.

“I think he enjoyed himself. He really did work hard. It's a very special experience. At the same time, he has his family here. They miss him, and he misses them. So, it's time to come home.”

Al Rais clarified that Al Neyadi would be meeting his children and the rest of the family members only when he gets back to the UAE. That means the 42-year-old will have to wait for some more time to see his newborn baby born while he was aboard the ISS for the first time.

Al Neyadi is a father to three girls and three boys and he named one of his sons Hazzaa, in honour of Hazzaa Al Mansoori, the UAE’s first astronaut and backup of Al Neyadi in his space mission.

hazzaa al mansoori and Dr Hanan Al Suwaidi, flight surgeon, UAE Astronaut Programme at MBRSC,
UAE's first astronaut Hazzaa Al Mansoori (left) and Dr Hanan Al Suwaidi, Flight Surgeon, UAE Astronaut Programme at MBRSC, during a video call on Sunday Image Credit: screengrab/Zoom

Asked about it, Al Mansoori said he felt very special when he heard that Al Neyadi had named his first boychild after him a few months after he returned from his 2019 space exploration flight.

“I told my wife that now we need to name our next baby boy Sultan, hopefully we will,” he said.

Al Mansoori acknowledged the monumental significance of Al Neyad’s mission, emphasising how it symbolises a remarkable leap for the UAE and the entire region in human space flight. He noted that more than three decades had passed since any space mission was initiated in the region before he flew to the ISS in 2019. And now, with Al Neyadi’s mission on the ISS, dreams have transformed into tangible achievements.

Reflecting on the international collaboration and scientific endeavours on the ISS, Al Mansoori underscored the inclusive nature of space exploration. He highlightd the diverse nationalities working together on the ISS and the significance of scientists conducting experiments in the unique microgravity environment of space.

Al Mansoori also stressed the importance of inspiring future generations in the Arab world. He believes that the region has taken its first steps toward a bright future in space exploration.

Regarding his personal connection with Al Neyadi, Al Mansoori expressed his happiness and pride in seeing Sultan’s successful mission. He hoped for the possibility of traveling to space together in the future, highlighting their strong bond and close relationships between their families.

Speaking highly of Sultan’s character, Al Mansoori described him as an “easygoing” person who is liked by everyone at ISS and NASA. Emphasising the strong camaraderie they developed over the years, Al Mansoori added that their unique relationship sets a precedent for future UAE astronauts, inspiring them to carry the torch of space exploration for generations to come.

On the arrival of Sultan, Al Mansoori said he would ask him more about the first Arab spacewalk conducted by the former and his ride back home. “These are things that we astronauts need to know in detail,” he said.

Risky splashdown

Meanwhile, Al Marri acknowledged the inherent risks involved in astronauts splashing down to the ocean, regardless of the industry’s past successes.

“It is a risky business. It is difficult, and there are always many things that can go wrong,” he said.

Al Marri pointed out that the launch and landing are the stages with the highest potential risks during human spaceflights.

However, NASA and SpaceX teams have extensive experience in mitigating these risks, including thorough checks of the spacecraft and the readiness of both the crew and rescue teams and weather conditions, he highlighted.

Al Marri said that reentry to Earth and ocean landing carry an elevated level of risk “But I think things will be going great,” he said, expressing confidence that all necessary precautions have been taken for a safe return of Crew-6.

No current health concerns

Dr Hanan Al Suwaidi, flight surgeon, UAE Astronaut Programme at MBRSC, said that Al Neyadi’s physical and mental health during the mission has been excellent, with his enthusiasm for activities and experiments highly commendable.

“We don’t have any current concerns about his health,” she said. “We actually hear from NASA, that he’s a very special astronaut,” she said, speaking highly about Al Neyadi’s contributions.

She also took the opportunity to acknowledge the special contribution of NASA and the support received from the MBRSC, the UAE authorities, the nation’s leaders, and the people to make Al Neyadi’s mission a big success.

Dr Al Suwaidi explained that the rehabilitation process, including exercises and physiotherapy, helps astronauts maintain and improve their overall well-being. Typically, astronauts gradually return to their normal activities within a month after their return. They continue to follow a healthy lifestyle, including clean and nutritious eating and regular exercise, to ensure their long-term well-being and fitness.

“After a month, they usually go back to their normal activities. Obviously, we want to make sure that they are safe and they are able to conduct their work without the probability of any injuries or harm,” she added.

Al Marri said Al Neyadi will be accorded a hero’s welcome once he reaches the UAE. Elaborate plans for his reception and date of his arrival will be announced later.

The MBRSC team members, currently stationed in the US, spoke to the UAE media through a virtual press briefing on Sunday evening.