UAE's first astronaut Hazzaa Al Mansoori at SpaceOps 2023 in Dubai Image Credit: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News

Dubai: How is ‘Sultan of Space,’ the UAE’s second astronaut to reach the International Space Station (ISS), doing in his new home and will he do a spacewalk? These are questions in the minds of everyone who has been closely following the historic longest space mission by an Arab that was launched on March 2.

On Monday, Al Neyadi’s backup in NASA’s SpaceX Crew-6 mission and the UAE’s first astronaut to visit the ISS in 2019, Hazzaa Al Mansoori, responded to these questions from the media on the sidelines of the 17th International Conference on Space Operations (SpaceOps 2023) in Dubai.

When Gulf News asked if he has spoken to Al Neyadi on how he has been adapting to his new home in space ever since he floated into ISS on March 3, Al Mansoori said: “He called me two days ago. He was excited. He is really happy just to feel the weightlessness and to achieve his dream to float and to be in space and to conduct science. So he’s really excited about it. He is in high spirits and he just wants to start work. He is really doing great. He talked with his family. We have the means onboard the station to communicate with the ground.”

Al Mansoori, who refers to Al Neyadi as his ‘brother,’ said he had felt “over the moon” when the latter launched to the ISS, adding “I was there with him.” He also told Al Neyadi “to enjoy his time” on the ISS when he called him.

Al Mansoori, an F-16 pilot with Major rank in the UAE Armed Forces, also broke the news that he has been promoted as a Colonel in the military. He said he would return to NASA’s Mission Control Centre in Houston after the conference to support Al Neyadi’s mission from the ground.

Will Sultan do a spacewalk?

When asked if Al Neyadi would do a spacewalk, Al Mansoori said: “He was trained and he is ready to do it and everyone is definitely looking forward to it.”

However, he explained that this decision has not been taken yet. “It is a decision to be taken by NASA in consultation with MBRSC and others. It’s going to be reviewed in the future.”

Al Mansoori said Al Neyadi, like all other astronauts and cosmonauts on the ISS, had been trained to do spacewalks, also called EVA (extravehicular activities). “Hopefully he will have that chance,” he said about Al Neyadi.

Prior to his launch, Al Neyadi had said: “We will have the possibility to carry on EVA, work on Canadarm robotic arm and many scientific experiments.”

EVA is commonly referred to as spacewalk as it is while doing the activities outside the ISS that astronauts get the feeling of walking in space.

While welcoming the Crew-6 members on board the ISS through a call from the Mission Control Centre in Houston, Kathryn Lueders, associate administrator, Space Operations Mission Directorate, NASA, had also said that “hopefully there would be a couple of EVAs” assigned to the Crew-6.

How many spacewalks so far?

So far, only 259 spacewalks have been conducted on the ISS since December 1998, according to NASA. Of these, 194 were conducted in US spacesuits and 65 in Russian spacesuits.

If Al Neyadi gets a chance to do it, he will be the first Arab astronaut (Najmonaut) to achieve the feat.

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How dangerous is it?

Al Mansoori explained how critical, dangerous and yet amazing an experience a spacewalk is.

“The experience that we have heard from astronauts who have conducted the spacewalk is amazing because when you look out, the only thing between you and the [outer] space is just the visor [on the helmet]. So it’s totally a different experience. You will feel like you’re just there, floating outside all of those modules [on the ISS] that protect you from the harsh environment.”

He said spacewalk is a very critical and complex job, usually carried out between six to seven hours continuously, outside the ISS.

Hooks are used to secure the astronauts from getting detached or untethered from the space station.

“So, you have to be methodical, and you have to be more precise on the course and the movement as the environment of weightlessness is really very tricky. A very light movement can give you unpredicted movements, maybe like pushing you away from the station. That is why it is considered dangerous.”

What is an EVA suit?

The spacesuit that is worn while doing the EVA is called an EVA suit. It is different from the IVA (In-Vehicle Activity) spacesuit that is worn by the astronauts while they are in the spaceflight to the ISS on the capsule.

“EVA suit is more like a small vehicle. It will give you oxygen, protect you from the harsh environment and give you that seal from the radiation from the vacuum and from the fluctuating temperatures. So it’s a very complex system by itself,” said Al Mansoori.

According to NASA, a fully equipped spacesuit used during spacewalks is actually a miniature spaceship shaped like a human body that protects the astronaut from the dangers of being outside a vehicle while in space or on the Moon. Spacewalking astronauts face radiation, dust, debris, and extreme temperatures.

Temperatures on spacewalks may vary from as cold as negative 250 degrees Fahrenheit to as hot as 250 degrees in the sunlight. The suits provide the proper pressure for the body and supply astronauts with water to drink and oxygen to breathe.

The spacesuit worn for spacewalks outside the ISS is also called the extravehicular mobility unit, or EMU. NASA is currently developing a new suit that will be worn for spacewalks on Artemis missions called the Exploration Extravehicular Mobility Unit, or xEMU.