How UAE astronauts reacted to call-up: One went jogging, the other thought it was a dream

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Hazza Al Mansoori and Sultan Al Neyadi during the parabolic flight training at the Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center in Russia.
Hazza Al Mansoori and Sultan Al Neyadi during the parabolic flight training at the Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center in Russia.

Dubai - Both of them are part of the UAE's first astronaut corps and one of them will jet off to space on September 25.

By Sarwat Nasir

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Published: Mon 25 Feb 2019, 6:00 PM

Last updated: Tue 26 Feb 2019, 2:36 PM

On August 21, 2018, at precisely 3.40pm, Hazza Al Mansoori received the most unforgettable call of his life. "You've been selected to be one of the first two Emirati astronauts," he was told.
About 10 minutes later, another Emirati, Sultan Al Neyadi, got a similar call. "I couldn't believe what I was hearing. I thought I was in a dream, so I ended the conversation really fast. I was so tense and excited at the same time," Al Neyadi said.
Both of them are part of the UAE's first astronaut corps and one of them will jet off to space on September 25 for an eight-day trip to the International Space Station (ISS). The first astronaut to take the UAE flag into outer space will be announced in May.
Al Mansoori, 35, and Al Neyadi, 37, addressed their first public conference in Dubai on February 25. They revealed details of the launch date, their brutal training in Russia so far and being given the opportunity to create history for the Arab world.

Al Mansoori, a former military pilot, said: "I used to love astronomy when I was young. I used to ask myself 'can I be an astronaut one day?'. So, when I received the call, I couldn't believe it. I am very proud to be serving my country and the Arab world."
Al Neyadi, a former IT professional, didn't even tell his parents he had applied to be an astronaut until he reached the medical stage of the competition. Travelling to space was a dream for him since he was young.
"After being told I was one of the first two astronauts, I hung up the phone and went jogging. I had to wake myself up and feel reality. I just couldn't believe it," he said.
The primary candidate will travel to the ISS onboard the Russian Soyuz MS-15 spacecraft and will return on the Soyuz MS-12.
The initial launch date of April 5 was changed because of the accident that occurred on the Soyuz MS-10 spacecraft last October. The astronauts onboard had to carry out a ballistic reentry into Earth as the boosters on the spacecraft failed to separate properly. It was the first incident of its kind in nearly three decades.
However, that hasn't scared the Emirati astronauts. Al Neyadi said: "Accidents can happen but you have to trust in your knowledge. The Soyuz programme is a very safe one." The trip to space will include several scientific experiments.
Research and experiments
Salem Al Marri, assistant director general for scientific and technical affairs and head of the UAE Astronaut Programme at the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre, said: "The astronaut will conduct research in various fields to be shared with the international scientific community to show the effect of zero gravity on research experiments, compared to gravity on Earth. For example, 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 later be compared with research conducted on astronauts from other regions."
This will also be the first time that an astronaut will give an introductory tour of the ISS in Arabic, where he will explain the components of the station, the equipment on board and methods of conducting experiments in zero gravity
The astronaut will be conducting earth observation and imaging experiences, interacting with ground stations, sharing information and experiences, as well as documenting the daily lives of astronauts at the station. Al Marri confirmed that the visual content of these tours will serve as an Arabic reference and will be available for those interested in the space sector from the Arab region.


Our mission will help new generation of Arabs dream: Astronauts tell KT
Q1-What was your reaction when you were chosen to be the first two astronauts?
Hazza: Really, I am proud to represent the UAE and Arab region ... in the International Space Station."
Sultan: I'm very happy about this selection. It comes with a lot of responsibilities that our wise government and leadership is putting on our shoulders. Hopefully, we'll be successful.
Q2-You've been in Russia for a while, undergoing heavy training. How's that been?
Hazza: We've been through a lot of training and we've prepared for that. It's a great responsibility for us to represent the UAE in the International Space Station. The challenge was in the Russian language and the weather. We adapted to that as time went by. Russian is a language of Soyuz and we have to master this language.
Sultan: Russian language was a great barrier in the beginning but with time, we adapted very well. We speak a little bit of Russian. We had to train in the centrifuge, it's a simulation of the zero-gravity. We went up to eight Gs (gravitational force), which is eight times up to our body weight. It's kind of challenging but we're getting used to it.
Hazza: For me, as a pilot, I experienced nine Gs. The Gs the astronauts experience is totally different than what the pilot is experiencing - it's the angle where it is hitting your body. So, it's really a different experience for me. The interesting one is the rotating chair, it's up to 10 minutes and it's a very important exercise. Even the astronauts and cosmonauts, they train again on that chair before the launch because it will increase their tolerance in sick motion.
Q3-The first Arabic transmissions will be sent down from the International Space Station when you get launched into space, how important is that for the Arab world's space industry?
Hazza: There are a lot of benefits. The main objective from all of this is the next generation of the youth. They will see our dreams and ambitions and that there is an Arab astronaut in space. It really will make a lot of difference in the next generation. Our wise leadership is looking forward to making our economy a knowledge-based one.
Q4-Come the day of the launch and one of you is sitting inside that small, tight, area inside the space shuttle. How do you think you'll be feeling?
Hazza: Excited, for sure. I will be proud to represent the UAE and Arab region. I'm there and I'm going to space - it's really making history.
Sultan: It's a very exciting experience. We're looking forward to this moment and hopefully it'll be a successful mission.

Get to know the astronauts

Hazza Al Mansoori
Birth date: December 13, 1983
Age: 35
Marital Status: Married with four children
Hometown: Born in Al Wathba, and moved with his family to Al Dhafra
Professional Qualifications: Military background. Former F-16B60 instructor pilot and a demo pilot, SOLO Demonstration pilot in F-16B60 and the UAE's youngest F-16 pilot.
Sultan Al Neyadi
Birth date: May 23, 1981
Marital Status: Married with four children
Hometown: Born in Umm Ghafa, 30 kilometers southeast of Al Ain, in Abu Dhabi, where he received primary and secondary education.
Educational and professional background: Bachelor's Degree of Science in Electronics and Communications Engineering from the University of Brighton in the UK, then served for the UAE Armed forces as a network security engineer. Later, got his Master's degree in IT from Griffith University in Australia, in 2008. He also earned a PhD in Information Technology (Data Leakage Prevention) and published six research papers in international websites.

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