Washington: The UAE Space Agency is considering a second round of astronaut selection to add to its existing two-astronaut team, SpaceNews.com reported.
The US-based website quoted a senior official of Dubai’s Mohammad Bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC) at a panel discussion at the 70th International Astronautical Congress in Washington on Friday.
According to the website, Salem Al Merri, assistant director general and astronaut programme manager at the MBRSC, said the UAE Space Agency was considering another round of selection for astronauts.
“We’re now considering and opening up the selection process again and selecting one or two more [astronauts], and adding them to our first selection group,” Al Merri was quoted as saying.
It follows the UAE’s first selection process, which led to the UAE sending its first astronaut, fighter pilot Hazzaa Al Mansoori, to the International Space Station on September 25 from Kazakhstan. Also, another finalist of the selection process, engineer Sultan Al Neyadi, was the back-up astronaut for the mission.
The UAE had in 2017 said it planned to establish its own astronaut corps - its space agency subsequently received over 4,000 applications from Emiratis of all backgrounds.
“We expected a high number of applicants for the programme, but the number really exceeded our expectations,” Saud Karmastaji, director of corporate communications at MBRSC was also quoted as saying by SpaceNews.com.
After Al Mansoori’s successful mission, during which he conducted science experiments on board the ISS, the UAE wants to plan more missions.
“The first strategic objective was to launch the first astronaut. The second strategic objective was to have a sustainable programme and continue launching,” Al Merri was quoted as saying.
The next “one or two” astronauts may be those “with different skill sets” than the existing two. “We always focus on selecting the best of the best.”
The new corps’ training will likely including preparations for spacewalks, according to Al Merri, who said that “our target is that, in the next three to five years, we’ve started our next flight.”