Emirati astronauts prepare for launch to Space Station

The United Arab Emirates is the 19th country to send a citizen to the ISS and contribute to scientific research in space.
Saturday 21/09/2019
UAE astronaut Hazza Al Mansoori gestures in a mock-up of a Soyuz space craft at Russian Space Training Centre in Russia, August 30. (AP)
History in the making. UAE astronaut Hazza Al Mansoori gestures in a mock-up of a Soyuz space craft at Russian Space Training Centre in Russia, August 30. (AP)

DUBAI - The United Arab Emirates’ first astronaut, Hazza Al Mansoori, and reserve astronaut Sultan Al Neyadi are preparing for a launch to the International Space Station.

A mock mission in August was a mandatory 2-day final exam for astronauts and cosmonauts at the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Centre in the Star City, near Moscow, before their lift-off September 25 to the International Space Station (ISS).

Mansoori will be accompanied by Russian commander Oleg Skripochka and US astronaut Jessica Meir on an 8-day trip on a Soyuz spacecraft that will launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

“To send an Emirati astronaut into space is an incredibly historic and meaningful step for the United Arab Emirates, a pioneering country that is reviving the region’s legacy in space, astronomy and physics,” said Mohammed al-Ahbabi, director-general of the UAE Space Agency.

“It is of particular pride that UAE space entities like the UAE Space Agency and the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC) are leading in the efforts for space exploration with a series of projects that not only benefit the country but humanity, too.”

The United Arab Emirates is the 19th country to send a citizen to the ISS and contribute to scientific research in space. Mansoori will be the first person to conduct an introductory tour in Arabic at the ISS.

Following more than 1,400 hours of training and 90 courses within a year, Mansoori’s schedule has him carrying out 16 scientific experiments in cooperation with international space agencies.

Experiments are designed to study brain diffusion tensor imaging, osteology, motor control, time perception in microgravity, fluid dynamics in space and DNA methylation age, the state news agency WAM reported.

“Mansoori’s trip to the ISS will count as the first UAE manned mission to space, which will mark a major milestone for the UAE and its National Space Programme that aims to develop the UAE’s space exploration capabilities,” Ahbabi said.

“Human spaceflight is an immense achievement for the UAE because it supports the country’s ambitious long-term goal of establishing a human settlement on Mars within the next century.

“Mansoori’s trip to the ISS will establish him as a role model among Emirati youth, inspiring the next generation of space pioneers to help the UAE advance regional and international space science and technology.”

His experiments will take place with NASA, the European Space Agency, Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency and Roscosmos. It will also involve the Science in Space initiative -- experiments based on the UAE’s school curriculum, as well as educational initiatives.

“Once on board the ISS, Mansoori will be conducting Earth observation and imaging activities, interacting with ground stations, sharing information, as well as documenting the daily lives of astronauts at the station,” Ahbabi noted.

“Among the numerous experiments he will be involved in is the UAE Space Agency’s palm seeds experiment, which aims to research the possibility of planting palm trees on Mars, in line with global scientific efforts to achieve food security in space. As part of this project, seven palm kernels will be sent to the ISS to run scientific tests and ascertain the possibility of cultivating them in space.”

The experiments will include testing the plant’s ability to adapt to zero gravity and how much water it absorbs.

“Mansoori will support his international colleagues and partners in performing a range of required duties aboard the ISS,” Ahbabi said. “His journey to space highlights the UAE Space Agency’s ambitious space vision and showcases the UAE’s capabilities on an international level.

“It is an important step in developing the UAE’s human capacities in human spaceflight and will inspire future generations to become space leaders, for the benefit of humanity.”

Ahbabi spoke of the trip as critical within the UAE’s long-term projects, such as the Emirates Mars Mission and Mars 2117 project because this mission will enhance collaboration with significant global entities in the space industry and support knowledge transfer in space activities throughout the region and internationally.

“Beyond organising, regulating and promoting the UAE space sector, the UAE Space Agency continuously works to raise awareness of the space industry and encourage the development and use of space science and technology – objectives that will be furthered by Mansoori’s trip to the ISS,” Ahbabi said.

“The UAE’s main concern is ensuring the astronaut’s safe arrival, departure and productive stay aboard the ISS.”

Further on from the ISS mission, the focus of the UAE will be on the launch of the Emirates Mars Mission’s Hope Probe in 2020, which aims to study the Martian atmosphere and climate and help understand the planet’s climate dynamics, global weather mapping and why and how Mars loses oxygen and hydrogen into space.

“This ties into the wider Mars 2117 project, part of the UAE’s ambitious plans to establish the first human settlement on Mars by 2117,” Ahbabi said.

“We are on schedule to launch the Mars Hope Probe next year, with its arrival to Mars scheduled to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the UAE. MBRSC has continued to make great progress on the Hope Probe. Last year, the Emirati team completed the design phase and is now assembling and testing its systems and equipment.”

MBRSC will send 10 kilograms of UAE heritage, culture and history with Mansoori to the ISS, including a UAE flag, a photograph of Emirates founder Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al-Nahyan with a delegation of Apollo astronauts, taken in 1976, a copy of the Quran and ”My Story”, a book by Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum.

MBRSC has signed an agreement with the Emirates Amateur Radio Society to build a radio station in the centre to communicate with Mansoori while aboard the ISS.