UAE astronaut Sultan Al Neyadi is set to become the first Arab to do a spacewalk. Image Credit: Twitter

Dubai: It is confirmed! UAE astronaut Sultan Al Neyadi is set to become the first Arab to do a spacewalk. This was revealed by Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai and President of the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC) on Thursday.

Taking to Twitter, Sheikh Hamdan announced Al Neyadi’s preparation for the historic milestone on April 28. He also revealed that this will make the UAE the 10th country in the world to undertake Extravehicular Activity (EVA) on the International Space Station (ISS).

“Inspired by Zayed’s ambitions, today our ambassador to space @Astro_Alneyadi is preparing for the first spacewalk by an Arab astronaut on 28 April. This will make the UAE the 10th country to undertake Extravehicular Activity (EVA) on the @Space_Station,” Sheikh Hamdan tweeted.

He also shared images of Al Neyadi checking out what looks like an EV spacesuit used for spacewalk as well as images of astronauts conducting spacewalks outside the ISS.

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.

According to NASA, astronauts undertake EVA to work on the exterior of a spacecraft, usually for maintenance or repairs, to test new equipment or to repair passing satellites, which is easier to repair in space than on Earth.

Million-dollar question

Will Al Neyadi do a spacewalk and create history for the Arabs has been the million-dollar question in the minds of everyone who has been closely following up the historic, longest space mission by an Arab that was launched on March 2.

Al Neyadi, like all other astronauts and cosmonauts on the ISS, had been trained to do spacewalks.

While welcoming the SpaceX 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.

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.

- Hazzaa Al Mansoori, UAE’s first astronaut to go to the ISS

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The Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC) said Al Neyadi will be part of the 262nd spacewalk in support of assembly, maintenance, and upgrades on the space station.

EVA on Expedition 69

The fifth spacewalk out of the ISS this year and the third for Expedition 69 will be a momentous occasion as NASA Flight Engineer Stephen Bowen and AlNeyadi work together to carry out essential tasks. The highly anticipated EVA is projected to last approximately 6.5 hours, providing the astronauts with the unique opportunity to experience the vast expanse of space while working to maintain and upgrade the ISS. Their teamwork and collaboration will not only showcase their individual skills but also emphasise the importance of international cooperation in advancing human space exploration.

One of the primary objectives of the EVA will be to retrieve a crucial Radio Frequency Group (RFG) unit, which is an integral component of the ISS's S-Band communications string. This essential piece of communications equipment will be returned to Earth on a SpaceX flight.

In addition to the primary task, AlNeyadi and his team will be working on a series of preparatory tasks related to the solar array installation EVAs planned for later in the mission. The solar arrays play a pivotal role in powering the ISS, providing clean and renewable energy to support the various experiments, systems, and daily operations on board.

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 minus 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.

Hamad Obaid AlMansoori, Chairman of MBRSC, said, "Sultan AlNeyadi's historic spacewalk is a testament to the UAE's unwavering dedication to advancing the frontiers of space exploration and fostering international cooperation. As the first Arab astronaut set to perform an EVA, AlNeyadi carries the aspirations of the entire region and symbolises the limitless possibilities of our collective achievements. This milestone is also an embodiment of our long-term vision to strengthen the UAE's position as a global leader in space, science, and technology, as we continue to inspire future generations to pursue knowledge and innovation relentlessly."

Salem Humaid AlMarri, Director General, MBRSC, said, "As the first Arab astronaut set to perform a spacewalk, Sultan AlNeyadi's milestone exemplifies our commitment to pioneering space exploration and contributing to the global space community. This remarkable event, taking place during the longest Arab space mission in history, not only signifies a remarkable achievement for the UAE and the region, but also highlights the continued international collaboration and scientific advancements on the ISS.”

Amazing experience

Earlier, the UAE’s first astronaut to go to the ISS and Al Neyadi’s backup on this mission, Hazzaa Al Mansoori had explained to Gulf News 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.”

Al Mansoori 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 unpredictable movements, maybe like pushing you away from the station. That is why it is considered dangerous.”