After an initial delay caused by an emergency landing in October 2018, the mission to send the first UAE astronaut to space is finalized for Sept. 25.
The UAE’s first astronaut will be launched into space on board a Russian Soyuz-MS12 spaceship on Sept. 25, officials of the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC) announced at a press conference.
As of this moment, Hazzaa Al Mansoori and Sultan Al Neyadi have been shortlisted as the final two candidates likely to undertake the 10-day mission to the International Space Station. The final choice of the nation’s primary astronaut will be announced in May, MBRSC officials confirmed.
The journey into space was initially planned for April 2019 but was delayed due to a mishap following the launch of a Soyuz-MS10 craft in October 2018.
"We decided to postpone the mission until Russia investigated the accident. After the completion of that investigation, they have resumed their mission," said Salem Al Marri, Assistant Director General for Scientific and Technical Affairs at the MBRSC.
"Astronaut's safety is our top priority. We are happy that the mission is in place to take place this year."
Hailing from Abu Dhabi, both the astronauts have been trained in the UAE Armed Forces. Hazzaa Al Mansoori has been in military aviation for more than 14 years and has served as a fighter pilot with the UAE’s military. He is qualified as an aeronautical pilot and flies an F-16 military plane. Sultan Al Neyadi has been one of the top telecommunications engineers at the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC) and holds a Ph.D. degree in Data Leakage Prevention Technology and a Master's degree in Information and Networks Security from Griffith University, Australia.
An incredible journey
Despite their extensive experience, Al Mansoori and Al Neyadi's journey to become the top two candidates was challenging.
Out of the 4022 applications received in MBRSC’s first astronaut program, a mere 95 were shortlisted to go through intense assessments and medical screenings. After multiple physical and psychological tests, 39 candidates were selected for the initial interview stages out of which 18 made it to the next set of assessments.
Hazzaa Al Mansoori and Sultan Al Neyadi were among the final nine chosen to undergo the penultimate assessments under the supervision of prominent experts at the Russian Space Agency (Roscomos).
"It was a historic moment for me. On August 39, at about 3 pm, I received a phone call from His Excellency Mr. Salem and that phone call made my history; it created my destiny. He told that I was selected as one of the first Emirati astronauts to go to the International Space Station. I cannot express how proud and how honored I was," said Hazzaa Al Mansoori.
The two chosen as UAE astronauts were also put through the paces in the cold and unforgiving Russian environment with a winter survival training as well as training at the Yuri A. Gagarin State Scientific Research-and-Testing Center, which included a centrifuge test, and parabolic flight training, among others.
In seven months, one of the two chosen astronauts will accompany a Russian commander, and a U.S. flight engineer Chris Cassidy in the three-seater Soyuz spaceship.
Salem Al Marri, Head of the UAE Astronaut Program at the MBRSC, detailed the mission on board the International Space Station.
In addition to specific assignments aboard the ISS, the chosen UAE astronaut will undertake the following scientific missions:
"Research will be conducted on the reaction of vital indicators of the human body at ISS, in comparison with Earth, before and after the trip. This is the first time this kind of research will be done by an astronaut from the Arab region. The results of this study will be later compared with research conducted on astronauts from other regions," Al Marri said.
On its return, the rocket will bring back the UAE astronaut and a returning crew from the ISS who have spent several months in space.