UAE analog astronaut Saleh Al Ameri: "The mission involved 240 days of hard work, but to me it represented 240 days of serving my country." Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: On Sunday (July 3), UAE analog astronaut Saleh Al Ameri – along with three Russian and two American crew members of SIRIUS-21 (Scientific International Research in the Unique Terrestrial Station) – left the isolation facility at Moscow’s Institute of Biomedical Problems, completing an eight-month mission studying the effects of spaceflight on human physiology and psychology.

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UAE analog astronaut Saleh Al Ameri Image Credit: SIRIUS-21 livestream screengrab

After conducting around 70 scientific experiments over the last eight months, the SIRIUS-21 crew has made new discoveries that will significantly impact the advancement of space exploration for the benefit of humanity. They have gathered new data on how astronauts can cope physically and mentally with long-term isolation, which are required for long-duration space journey.

More information will be shared and studied in the days to come, but what Al Ameri has achieved as UAE analog astronaut is significant.

‘240 days of serving my country’

In his own words, Al Ameri said, “It is my honour to congratulate my fellow SIRIUS-21 crew members and to dedicate this achievement to the wise leadership of rulers of the UAE and to express how very proud I am of the success of the first UAE Analog Mission. The mission involved 240 days of hard work, but to me it represented 240 days of serving my country. I would like to also extend my gratitude and appreciation to my colleague Abdualla AlHammadi for his incredible support during the mission where we achieved all our goals.

“It was a long mission and we experienced complete isolation, with the cooperation of an international crew of collaborators. That said, it was a very rich task, as 70 scientific experiments were conducted, that required 12 hours a day shifts from seven in the morning until seven in the evening. I was pleased to participate in this exceptional experience due to the presence of a professional and supportive crew in various circumstances. Above that, I had the opportunity to benefit and learn about different aspects of space, and it will be a strong impetus to make further progress in this sector, with the continuous endeavour to invest in the youth of the country.”

What is the SIRIUS programme?
The SIRIUS project was designed to last up to five years, with three phases of the programme already completed. The first phase, SIRIUS-17, lasted for a period of 17 days, from November 7 to 14, 2017; while the second phase, SIRIUS-19, covered 120 days and took place between March 19 and July 17, 2019. SIRIUS-21 is the third phase of the programme which lasted for eight months, from November 24, 2021, to July 3, 2022. The fourth phases SIRIUS22/23 will be launched in 2022 and will last for 12 months.

UAE progress in space further established

The participation of an Emirati team is a strong indication of the international scientific community’s confidence in the capacity and progress of the UAE’s space initiatives.

The country sent to Mars two years ago the ‘Hope Probe’, the first Arab interplanetary space mission which is now conducting a complete scientific study of the Martian atmosphere. UAE has been sharing with the global scientific community a vast amount of data of the Red Planet’s environment and this Mars mission is just the beginning of the UAE’s long-term space programme.

Team Sirius
Team SIRIUS-21 Image Credit: Supplied

Soon, the country will be sending to the moon Rashid Rover, the world’s smallest lunar rover named after the late Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum, the founding father of modern Dubai. Rashid Rover itself is actually two years ahead of its original launch schedule.

UAE companies are working on international projects, including the Emirati-made MBZ-SAT, which will be launched by the end of 2023 as the second operational UAE satellite. The country is developing its own satellites, which is a big leap from the first specialist team that was sent to Korea 17 years ago to serve as its space programme

Now, Al Ameri, has successfully completed the eight-month mission as part of SIRIUS-21 crew that trained for long-term space travel.

International collaboration and shared goals

The importance of international collaboration cannot be underestimated. UAE has achieved so much in such a short time, with the UAE government from the start saying: ‘Work with others’.

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Partnerships and international collaboration have always been the foundation of successful space missions. The best minds from around the world are together to solve complex problems and come up with countermeasures to beat the odds and thrive in the final frontier.

Al Ameri collaborated with three Russian and two American crew members — Oleg Blinov, Ekaterina Karyakina and Victoria Kirichenko from Russia’s Institute of Biomedical Problems of the Russian Academy of Sciences (IBMP), and Ashley Kowalski and William Brown from United States space agency, NASA.

The over-arching message of Al Ameri’s mission is that countries with common interests improve various levels of space cooperation and gain shared goals. This is an accomplishment that the UAE is truly proud of.

What top officials say

Hamad Obaid AlMansoori, Chairman of MBRSC, said, “The great support provided by His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, President of the UAE, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President, Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai and Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai, Chairman of the Executive Council and President of the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre, to develop the space sector is key to the UAE’s successive achievements in the field of space exploration. Our recent accomplishments will strengthen our position in the global space community as a leader among nations with space programmes as well as contribute to new knowledge and innovation.

A grateful Saleh Al Ameri with Abdullah Al Hammadi and top officials. Image Credit: Supplied

“We aim to achieve continuous successes of various UAE initiatives through our upcoming projects. It is worth noting the UAE’s analog astronaut Saleh Al Ameri has contributed new knowledge and key developments to the Emirati space exploration project, thanks to his efforts and perseverance that led to the Analog Mission’s success.”

Salem Al Marri, Director General, MBRSC, said: “Analog astronaut Saleh Al Ameri has successfully achieved the goals of the first UAE Analog Mission, which he accomplished through effort and perseverance during an eight-month isolation period within the SIRIUS-21 programme, noting that the positive results achieved through the scientific experiments that took place, will contribute significantly to studying the effects of isolation on human psychology and physiology, in addition to helping prepare for future space exploration missions.”

Adnan Al Rais, Director of Mars 2117 Programme, MBRSC, “The SIRIUS 21 project has accomplished new achievements, and witnessed over 70 experiments conducted during the eight-month long mission. This was made possible by international collaboration between the Institute of Medical and Biological Research in Moscow, NASA, and MBRSC. The team concluded its mission and took with them extensive scientific experience and deep knowledge that will help us with all our future projects.

“We in the UAE and the MBRSC are proud to participate in the Analog Mission, which represents an important milestone within the UAE Analog Programme, as part of our long-term project Mars 2117, to send humans to Mars and build a settlement on the surface of the Red Planet. The SIRIUS-21 project is a representation of international collaboration, where all involved parties work together towards the common goal of developing science and technologies that will enable us to launch ambitious future missions.”

Great support

Abdullah Al Hammadi, who is part of the reserve team that worked in the ground operations centre, played an important role in the mission by providing support to AlAmeri and the rest of the crew. He focused on the follow-up mission scenario and assisted the crew members as well as following up and reviewing the task schedule, through the operations center, and analyzing data during the period of scientific experiments, in order to accurately work out a clear future plan for various scenarios and to communicate and provide psychological support to all crew members.

The tasks at hand

The SIRIUS-21 mission crew worked in a sealed capsule simulating a spacecraft to understand not just the effects of isolation on human physiology and psychology but also to gain insights on team dynamics during long-duration space exploration missions. The mission facility consisted of independent life support systems adhering to specific and controlled parameters, including ventilation and air conditioning systems, atmospheric purification, gas analysis and support for specific conditions of pressure, temperature, humidity and gas composition.

Al Ameri’s experiments included the fields of physiology, psychology and biology, while the research of the Emirati universities selected for the mission included research from the Mohammed bin Rashid University of Medicine and Health Sciences, which focused on the effects of long-duration exposure to environments simulating life in space on changing the state of the heart. The research topic presented by the University of Sharjah highlighted the study of determining the effects of stress caused by isolation on circulatory and musculoskeletal function in crew members during the mission, with measurement of clinical, genomic, transcriptional, and proteomic parameters.

The list of research topics submitted for the purpose of the mission included research presented by the American University of Sharjah on relieving psychological stress in periods of isolation and closed environments, while the United Arab Emirates University proposed research on the psychological challenges posed by isolation during human flights to space, centred on the subject of the role of motivational dynamics and intense interval training as a measure to prevent bone density loss and insulin resistance in space.

Key experiments of the mission

Al Ameri’s experiments, implemented successfully and with high efficiency, included simulating the operation of a space robot and reducing stress in isolation. He also conducted virtual reality experiments, such as launching a vehicle and securing its docking with the International Space Station, in addition to flying over the moon and Mars. The results of his electroencephalogram experiment provided a clear picture of brain functions in isolation. This was done to help scientists gain more insights into the effects of long-term isolation on the brain and changes in its cognitive functions. Other experiments included examining the samples Al Ameri collected with his colleagues during a simulated lunar landing experiment, collating and transporting them to the lunar base, as well as experimenting with the use of the robotic arm, Kandarm 2, to pick up cargo vehicles and transport equipment, among others.