Salem Al Marri PRESS CONF-1677750143904
Salem Al Marri, director general of MBRSC, the agency behind the UAE Astronaut Programme, address the Nasa press conference held after the successful lift-off of the SpaceX Falcon9 rocket. Image Credit: Nasa TV screengrab

Dubai: With the successful lift-off of Emirati astronaut Sultan Al Neyadi for the longest Arab space mission, the UAE has sent out a clear message — the country is ready for the space age!

A top official also announced that the country is looking at launching “human space flights every three to five years.”

“I think we’ll be the 10th or 11th country that does a long term space flight to the ISS. And I think that sends a clear message that we are here to be active players and we are here to stay,” Salem Al Marri, director general of the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC), the agency behind the UAE Astronaut Programme.

Al Marri was speaking at a Nasa press conference held after the successful lift-off of the SpaceX Falcon9 rocket with the Crew-6 Dragon ‘Endeavour’ that carried Al Neyadi along with three other crew members to zero gravity on Thursday.

“Firstly, we have our attention firmly focused on this mission. Of course, looking at the future, we have four astronauts who are currently training at Nasa. Our objectives are to fly them,” said Al Marri.

He said the country is looking at short duration missions and long duration missions.

“Beyond that … as a relatively small country and a new entrant in human space flight, I would expect us to look at our flight every three to five years, something like that.”

Salem Al Marri PRESS CONF5-1677750149384
Salem Al Marri (extreme right) and top officials of NASA, SpaceX and ISS address the post-launch press conference in Florida. Image credit MBRSC

Changing Arab presence in space

He pointed out that Al Neyadi’s was the second human space flight for the UAE after the eight-day expedition to the International Space Station by the first Emirati astronaut Hazzaa Al Mansoori in 2019.

“We learnt a lot from that flight and we saw the whole country was tuned in … We have a long-term strategy of wanting to be a player in human space flight because we see the importance of human space flight. We want human space flight to be in the region. There wasn’t a lot of active human space flight in the Arab region, and we think that needs to change. And with this second flight, and a long duration flight, it is making history for us in the region.”

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Al Marri pointed out that the country was looking forward to strong partnerships for successful future space missions.

“We can only do that with partnerships. And we look forward to a successful docking and very successful mission and to future missions.”

He expressed his happiness and pride over the successful launch of Crew-6 with Al Neyadi and said: “I’d like to echo what everybody said, it was a beautiful launch. I think it was a gorgeous launch and for us, I think, it made all the sweeter because we had an Emirati on board. And you know, that’s not something that happens very often. So, for that I’d like to thank our partners and Nasa leadership for all your support and effort over the years.”

Strong international partnerships

Al Marri pointed out that the UAE has a very strong partnership with Nasa. “We have four astronauts [either] trained or [now] training at NASA’s Johnson Space Centre. And this type of partnership and long duration flight is something that we value very much. Thank you for that.”

“I’d also like to thank SpaceX, Benji (Benji Reed, senior director, Human Spaceflight Program, SpaceX) and your team for all the dedication at SpaceX that we’ve seen over the years and what we’ve seen throughout this launch campaign as well that your team has put in …[In] this type of partnership, the way, the results are very clear. It’s something that we value very much as well.”

It’s cool to have UAE onboard: SpaceX

Meanwhile, Reed also welcomed the participation of new entrants like the UAE in the space sector.

Talking about the partnership with the UAE, he said it was “so cool to have these kinds of partners”

Calling it an awesome time in spaceflight, Reed said: “We are excited to see so many other players hopefully coming onto the scene and [for] all the different areas of going into space, whether it's a launch or space capsules or going to the moon or building LEO (Low Earth Orbit) habitats or all of these. If we're going to open the space age, we're going to make life multi-planetary, it has to have a big ecosystem, a lot of people doing things. And I mean it goes back again, we're talking about our new partners like, the United Arab Emirates.”

He highlighted that the ongoing international partnership for the International Space Station has “various players like the ESA (European Space Agency), Canada (Canadian Space Agency), JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) and Roscomos (Russian State Space Corporation).”

“This is part of what we're trying to do globally…We look forward to more and more flights of different kinds, hopefully with lots of different partners…We're not necessarily just going to the ISS, but we've got other things we can do. There's so much to do in space,” Reed added.

Ambitious space plans

From becoming the first Arab nation and fifth country ever to reach Mars to launch the first long-duration Arab space mission, the UAE has made incredible strides in space.

The Emirates Mars Mission “Hope Probe” and the Emirates Lunar Mission “Rashid Rover,” are milestone achievements of the country in its ever-growing space expeditions.

To develop a sustainable astronaut programme, the UAE intends to obtain several spaceflights in the future. Also, the country is in discussions with NASA about taking part in the Artemis programme, which aims to establish a human presence on the Moon.

With the ambitious space missions, it is likely that the country’s future astronauts will be part of the upcoming missions to the Moon, Mars and other planets.

UAE's remarkable space sector in figures
Dh22 billion total investment in space projects
Dh10.9 billion spent on the space sector during 2015-2020 40% increase in contractual agreements for space services and applications
Dh3 billion-National Space Fund to develop space sector
3 pillars of 'Space Economic Zones Programme' to stimulate the national space economy