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UAE: 61 candidates shortlisted for the second batch of Astronaut Programme

The UAE is forging ahead with its plans for space travel. After sending the first Emirati astronaut to space last year, the country is now looking for its next duo team of spacefarers.

The candidates have been shortlisted from 4,305 applicants The Programme is aimed at further strengthening the UAE’s position in human space flight The final two candidates will supposedly be announced during January of 2021

The UAE is forging ahead with its plans for space travel. After sending the first Emirati astronaut to space last year, the country is now preparing for the next step. 

According to the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC),  61 out of 4,305 applicants have been shortlisted for the second batch of the UAE Astronaut Programme, which aims to find the next two astronauts who will join the UAE’s astronaut corps and further the country’s ambition for crewed space missions.

Back in March, officials had confirmed that the next two astronauts it is currently screening for will be announced during January of 2021.

MBRSC said that the total applicant turnout this time was 7% higher than that of the first batch.

Methodology: The list was initially filtered down to 2099 applicants based on their age, educational background, and scientific research experience, after which the remaining applicants underwent an online test, through which the best 1,000 candidates were selected. In the next phase, these candidates were made to undergo IQ, personality, and technical assessments. The top 122 from the 1,000 were interviewed virtually, bringing the shortlist down to 61 candidates.

Candidate breakdown: The shortlisted candidates include 41 men (67%) and 20 women (33%) from across the UAE.  The average age of the applicants stood at 28 years old, with the youngest candidate being 23 years old and the oldest 39 years old. 

Hazzaa AlMansouri, the UAE’s first astronaut, was 35 when he made the historic trip in 2019. His backup, Sultan AlNeyadi, who would have undertaken the trip in his AlMansouri’s place were he to be unable to make it for the launch, was 38 at the time. As such, given the ages of the previous successful candidates, the selection process might be more in favor of individuals on the higher end of the age spectrum.

Applicant backgrounds: The applicants have diverse educational backgrounds, with 3 of them holding a PhD, while 12 have a master’s degree. In terms of profession, 54% of the applicants were from the engineering sector, 18% from the military sector, 18% from the aviation sector and 5% from the healthcare sector.

Final tests: MBRSC has further announced that the 61 candidates are currently undergoing advanced medical tests. A select number of candidates will be shortlisted after this for an initial interview to be conducted by a committee from MBRSC. Candidates that make it through the initial interview will move on to the next round, where they will have a final round of interviews conducted by a panel of experts from MBRSC, including previous astronauts Hazzaa AlMansoori and Sultan AlNeyadi. Two candidates will then be selected from the final list to form the second batch of the UAE Astronaut Programme.

MBRSC said that the final selected candidates will undergo an intensive multi-stage training programme, in accordance with the highest international standards. They will first undergo a basic training phase, during which they will learn the objectives and plans of the programme, the basics of scientific disciplines, including space engineering and scientific research, as well as procedures and regulations of the International Space Station. 

Candidates will also learn Russian, get trained on scientific research procedures in space and then move on to the advanced and intensive training phase. During this phase, candidates will learn to maintain and manage payloads, as well as a range of skills including robotics, navigation, medical aid and resource management. All this will enable astronauts to be eligible to participate in missions to the International Space Station.

As part of a joint cooperation agreement between the UAE and the US, the two new astronauts will conduct the aforementioned training at the Johnson Space Centre in the US, and will be part of the NASA Astronaut Candidate Class of 2021. The Emirati astronauts will undergo the same training programme as those of NASA astronauts, which will help them prepare physically and psychologically for future space exploration missions.

The UAE heads to Mars

This July, the UAE followed up its ambitious astronaut trip in 2019 with another, equally ambitious, endeavor: the Emirates Mars Mission (EMM).

The GCC nation launched a probe to space at the time, scheduled to reach Mars’ orbit on February 9, 2021, as per a tweet by Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum. The eventual success of the trip in February will coincide with the 50th anniversary of the unification of the UAE, signifying a major accomplishment for the young nation on both fronts. 

The Emirates Mars Mission (EMM) is the UAE’s first mission to Mars. The Hope Probe is designed to orbit Mars and study the dynamics in the Martian atmosphere on a global scale, and on both diurnal and seasonal timescales. 

“Should Hope make it safely to Mars, the UAE will be the fifth entity to successfully send a mission to the Red Planet after NASA, the Soviet Union, the European Space Agency and the Indian Space Research Organisation,” writes. “So far the spacecraft has made it 60% of the way to Mars since its launch on July 20. It is expected to make a fourth, smaller trajectory correction maneuver on Dec. 29.”