The Cygnus cargo ship slowly approaching the International Space Station (ISS) for docking. Image Credit: AP

This is the first report in a 10-day countdown for the launch of UAE’s first man in space.


Dubai: Ten days from now, astronaut Hazza Al Mansouri will head to where no Emirati has gone before — literally reach beyond the skies and live on-board the International Space Station (ISS).

Al Mansouri’s expedition to space is an ambitious national mission realised in less than two years of planning and training.

His eight-day stay on the largest man-made structure outside Earth will make him the 240th visitor to the space station and the UAE as the 19th visiting country.

Al Mansouri carries on his shoulders the dreams of a young nation “who break barriers and prove that there is no power strong enough to stand in their way”. His trip paves the way for many more Emiratis to reach the ISS and beyond, to even establish a city on Mars by 2117.

190914 iss graphic
Sources: NASA | Image: NASA | ©Graphic News Image Credit: ©Gulf News

But why is this mission critical? How do exploring and studying space impact us?

Michael Flachbart, who worked for nearly 30 years at the US Space and Rocket Centre (USSRC), the official Nasa Visitor Information Centre for the Marshall Space Flight Centre, said there are more direct results of space science around us than we actually think.

“It’s important to go to space for a number of reasons. Humans for centuries have been explorers. People have explored continents, oceans; they’ve travelled [far and wide]. So this is the ocean of space and they’re exploring that,” Flachbart, now the strategic consultant of Compass International in Dubai, told Gulf News.

“It’s also the technology that gets developed from the space programmes — whether that’s satellites that look back down on earth that look at environmental issues or weather satellites or communication satellites that improve life on earth, and many more,” Flachbart added.

What is the International Space Station (ISS)?

The ISS is the only place in space where humans can live in and survive. It’s a huge spacecraft that orbits Earth at an altitude of around 400km, considered as low earth orbit (LEO). It shares space with many satellites, most of which are at 600km. The UAE’s KhalifaSat, for example, is at 613km LEO.

Technically, the ISS is a giant floating space laboratory. It can house six astronauts or cosmonauts at one time who conduct scientific experiments for their sending countries.

How was the ISS built in space?

The ISS is the largest multi-nation construction project of mankind. It was built in phases throughout a 13-year period. Russia contributed the first piece of the station, a module called Zarya. Modules called nodes are pressurised spheres connected together like a giant Lego piece, each having a specific function. The other modules are Unity, Zvezda, Z1, Destiny, Harmony, Columbus, Kibo, Leonardo, among others.

How long has the ISS been in orbit?

Canadian astronaut and International Space Station (ISS) Commander Chris Hadfield (right) hands over command of the ISS to Russian cosmonaut Pavel Vinogradov (left) in this image taken from video shot May 12, 2013, courtesy of Chris Hadfield, NASA and CSA. Image Credit: Reuters

The ISS was launched to space in November 1998. The first three-man crew to live on the space station, however, came two years later in 2000.

Space Station commander Bill Shepherd from the US led the Expedition 1 crew with Soyuz commander Yuri Gidzenko and flight engineer Sergei Krikalev, both from Russia.

A view of the International Space Station. If commercial stations prove cheaper to operate, Nasa will have more money to pursue other goals, like sending astronauts to the moon and Mars. Image Credit: Supplied

They stayed on the station for four months before returning to Earth when their replacement astronauts from Expedition 2 took over.

How long it does it take to reach ISS?

Expedition 1 arrived at the orbital outpost on November 2, two days after launch on October 31, marking the beginning of continuous human presence on the ISS.

With advances in technology and precision steering of the Soyuz capsule over various orbits, the flight time has now been drastically cut down to nearly six hours. This means it takes less time to reach the ISS from Earth than it is flying from Dubai to London.

Who have been there? (See graphic)

US has the biggest number of astronauts who have visited the station with 150 people. Nasa astronaut Jessica Meir, who is launching to the ISS for the first time on September 25, will be the 152nd. Russia comes in second with 48 cosmonauts.

What do astronauts do on the ISS?

Astronauts stay on this orbiting laboratory for are noble reason — to conduct experiments that cannot be done on earth.

Basically, these astronauts are space heroes as they conduct most of these experiments on themselves. They are literally the guinea pigs in these space experiments. This is aside from the other cellular, molecular, plant and animal species they study.

Our objective is to inspire the next generation and to let them know that nothing is impossible.

- Hazza Al Mansouri | UAE astronaut

When humans go to space, they are subjected to extreme conditions that put tremendous stress on the body due to weightlessness. According to research published by Nasa, prolonged stay in space could lead to a decrease in bone density and strength, loss of muscle mass, change of muscle performance, increased kidney stones and bone fractures, among others.

Microgravity also affects body fluids as they are redistributed away from the extremities. Most at risk is the human heart that is also a muscle. Space flight could result in “diminished cardiac function” and even the heart rhythm disturbances. Space radiation, isolation, distance from earth are also some of the hazards astronauts face.

What will Al Mansouri do on the ISS?

Al Mansouri will conduct 16 researches on the reaction of vital indicators of the human body at ISS, in comparison with Earth, before and after the trip. This is the first time this kind of research will be done by an astronaut from the Arab region. Results of this research will be shared with the international community and compared with available research as well. He will also conduct a detailed tour of the space station in Arabic.

What are the benefits of space science and the ISS to humanity?

Flachbart said: “A lot of people talk about why we spend millions or billions of US dollars in space. We’re actually not spending it in space. We’re spending it here on Earth by employing people in good jobs here on earth, in creating technologies. A lot of those technologies pay off in benefits here on Earth in terms of weather forecasting, earth resource, soil moisture, sea level, any number of things like that that help us as we prepare either on to the moon or further out to Mars one day or maybe even further several centuries from now.”

Other technologies we see around us now and are used in everyday life are actually developed as a direct result of space industry research like the camera phone, water purification, LED lighting, modern smoke detectors, scratch-resistant glass coating, CAT scans, landmine removal, athletic shoes, ear thermometers, and portable computer.

Can regular people go as tourists to the ISS?

Yes. In 2001, American millionaire Dennis Tito became the first space tourist, with a ticket to space costing $20 million (Dh73.4 million). Between then and 2009, Space Adventures, a private Russian company, facilitated seven space tourists’ trips to the ISS.

In June, Nasa announced it is opening the ISS to new commercial opportunities. But the trip is for those with $59 million to spare for one ticket per person.

How much does it cost to go to the ISS?

According to Fox News, Nasa usually shells out around $75 million to send astronauts to the ISS on-board the Russian’s Soyuz spacecraft.

In 2015, the price it paid for a seat was $82 million.

Technologies developed by space research

  • Camera phone
  • Water purification
  • Led lighting
  • Mapping software
  • Weather satellites
  • Wireless headsets
  • Computer mouse

Others: Freeze-dried food, home insulation, modern smoke detectors, scratch-resistant glass coating, CAT scans, landmine removal, athletic shoes, ear thermometers, the jaws of life, memory foam, baby formula, artificial limbs, portable computer, equipment that monitor blood pressure remotely