A screengrab from the animated video showing how Sultan Al Neyadi and Stephen Bowen will perform the spacewalk in the vacuum outside the International Space Station. Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: Ahead of the historic first Arab spacewalk by UAE astronaut Sultan Al Neyadi, US space agency NASA has released an animated video that shows how he will conduct the mission along with NASA astronaut Stephen Bowen in the vacuum of space outside the International Space Station (ISS).

The ‘Sultan of Space’ will venture outside the ISS for his first spacewalk while Bowen will be performing the Extravehicular Activity (EVA) for the eighth time, for the US Spacewalk 86 scheduled to be held on Friday, April 28.

NASA said the coverage of the spacewalk would begin from 7.45am, i.e., 3.45pm here on Friday.

During a preview of the historic mission by the Exploration 69 crewmembers on Monday night, NASA released the animated video to show in detail how the duo would carry out the EVA that is expected to last for six and a half hours.

The over seven-minute-long video was also posted on social media by the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC) in Dubai, the agency behind the UAE Astronaut Programme.

It explains in a nutshell how the two the two flight engineers of Expedition 69 would carry out their tasks assigned during the spacewalk. Held as part of the 262nd spacewalk in support of assembly, maintenance, and upgrades on the space station, their spacewalk includes two major tasks.

Main tasks

One of the primary tasks of the EVA is to retrieve a crucial Radio Frequency Group (RFG) unit, which is an integral component of the space station’s S-Band communications string. NASA had earlier said the astronaut duo will retrieve an S-band antenna equipment, which enables communication with Earth, and bring it inside the space station for refurbishment. This essential piece of communications equipment will be returned to Earth later on a SpaceX flight.

The next objective is to work on a series of preparatory tasks related to the solar array installation EVAs planned for later in the mission. This prepares for the future installation of upgraded solar arrays on the starboard side of the station’s truss. 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.

EV1 and EV2

As reported by Gulf News earlier, Bowen will serve as extravehicular crew member 1 (EV 1) and will wear a suit with red stripes. Al Neyadi will serve as extravehicular crew member 2 (EV 2) and will wear an unmarked suit i.e., all white. The EVA spacesuit worn for spacewalks outside the ISS is also called the Extravehicular Mobility Unit, or EMU.

The video shows all the manoeuvers that EV1 and EV2 would make from the time they exit the Quest Airlock of the ISS and return to it after concluding the EVA.

On Monday, the two astronauts spent the day checking their spacesuits for leaks and proper fit verification with assistance from NASA flight engineer Woody Hoburg. He, along with NASA flight engineer Frank Rubio, will assist the astronauts in and out of their spacesuits and monitor their spacewalk.

During the preview press conference, Scott Stover, US Spacewalk 86 Flight Director, said Hoburg will be the “Suit IV, the person who helps both Steve and Sultan get suited up in the morning and then help them doff their suits at the end of the day.”

He said Rubio will be “M-1, or our Mobile Servicing System Number 1. He is responsible for controlling the Canadarm robotic arm in moving Steve around.”

Excited lot

Commenting about the first spacewalk by Al Neyadi, Stover said: “We are very excited for Sultan and our Emirati friends, giving them this opportunity for a great experience.”

Stover pointed out that Bowen is quite experienced. “His seven previous EVs all happened on shuttle missions spanning from 2008 and 2011. We are very excited to have such an experienced crew member go out as our lead spacewalker.”

Dina Contella, Operations Integration Manager, International Space Station Programme, said the crew had been on the road to the EVA the past week and working on it again this week.

“We are super excited about having them go EVA on this particular day and they are mostly concerning themselves with preparing the station for the eventual ISS Roll-Out Solar Array (iROSA) Installation EVAs that are happening in June and also working on some comm equipment to retrieve that.”

Rescue scenario training

NASA said Al Neyadi also wore a set of virtual reality (VR) goggles and trained for a variety of unlikely spacewalking rescue scenarios.

For VR training, astronauts wear a helmet with a video screen inside, and special gloves. A video of what they will see during a spacewalk is shown on the screen inside the helmet. When the astronaut moves, the special gloves allow the movements to be shown with the video. The virtual reality simulation looks and feels just like a spacewalk. Astronauts practice for a spacewalk using VR after their rigorous physical training in water back on Earth.

Al Neyadi had trained for more than 55 hours at NASA’s Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory (NBL) at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas in preparation for spacewalks. During his time at the NBL, Al Neyadi underwent nine runs of six hours each, training underwater simulating spacewalks utilising the full mock-up of the ISS in the pool that holds 6.2 million gallons of water.

As part of the EVA preparations, NASA said the crew on Friday printed the robotics procedures for the upcoming ‘US EVA RFG Retrieval,’ and then participated in an EVA conference to review familiarisation products followed by a conference with ground specialists. Familiarisation products include the detailed timeline, a briefing package, configuration and tool notes, procedures, and additional data.

With Al Neyadi’s milestone feat, the UAE will become the 10th country to perform a spacewalk on the ISS.