Dubai: UAE astronaut Sultan Al Neyadi, who is on the longest Arab space mission on the International Space Station (ISS), is all set to host the largest ever group of Arabs in space when two of his Saudi counterparts join him onboard the ISS on Monday.
Blasting off aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from the Kennedy Space Centre at Cape Canaveral in Florida, US, the first two Saudi astronauts to go to the orbiting laboratory—Ali Al Qarni and Rayyanah Barnawi, the first-ever Arab woman to voyage into space--are scheduled to dock to the space-facing port of the Harmony module of ISS along with their Axiom Mission 2 (Ax-2) crewmates, Peggy Whitson and John Shoffner, on Monday at 5.24pm in the UAE, according to the US space agency NASA.
Al Neyadi, the fourth Arab to make it to space, is all set to welcome his new Arab colleagues on board the space station and will be helping with their docking operations.
Ahead of their 10-day space odyssey, Al Neyadi wished them a great launch and shared a new space image of Saudi Arabia taken from the ISS.
“Following in Prince Sultan bin Salman Al Saud’s pioneering footsteps, two Saudi astronauts will launch on their 1st mission to the ISS and for 1st time ever, three Arab astronauts will be in space together. As we wish them a great launch, here’s a recent view of Saudi Arabia I took,” he posted along with the space image of the Kingdom from the orbiting station over 400km above the Earth.
“Saudi astronauts Rayyanah Barnawi, the first Arab woman to go on a space mission, and Ali Al Qarni, will today commence their historic journey to the International Space Station, where they will join Emirati astronaut @Astro_Alneyadi. We wish them success in this exceptional mission. Their journey will lead to the first-ever meeting of three Arab astronauts on the ISS. The youth of the Arab world continue to demonstrate their excellence in advanced science-based sectors,” Sheikh Hamdan tweeted.
Earlier in March, just ahead of his historic launch, Al Neyadi had spoken about the prospects of three Najmonauts (Arab astronauts) working together on the ISS during his six-month space odyssey.
“It’s going to be really exciting, really interesting…Our region is thirsty to learn more,” he had said.
He pointed out that Prince Sultan bin Salman was the first Arab astronaut to go to space in 1985, followed by Muhammed Faris, a Syrian astronaut, in 1987. “[The UAE’s] Hazzaa Al Mansoori was the third in 2019, and I will be the fourth...Our region is thirsty to learn more and I think we will be the ambassadors in these missions. Hopefully, we can come back with knowledge and share whatever we learn with everybody," he had added.
Training for docking
NASA said Al Neyadi took Friday morning off and then spent the afternoon reviewing procedures and training on a computer for the approach and docking of Axiom Mission-2 (Ax-2).
“He also set up computers in the seven-window cupola and the Destiny laboratory module that will support the monitoring of the Ax-2 mission’s arrival aboard the SpaceX Dragon Freedom crew ship,” the US space agency added.
Meanwhile, the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC) in Dubai, the agency behind the UAE Astronaut Programme, also shared good luck to the Ax-2 crew.
“We extend our sincerest wishes to the Saudi Space Commission and astronauts Rayyanah Barnawi and Ali Alqarni, who will launch to the International Space Station as part of the Ax-2 crew,” it added in a social media post.