KT exclusive: Emirati astronauts Al Mansouri, Al Neyadi share UAE’s space success mantra

Nandini Sircar/Dubai
Filed on April 12, 2021

(KT file)

A sneak peek into the nation’s bid to scale up its space ambitions.

Success is the culmination of big dreams, right opportunities, to be ready for the future, relentless hard work, grit and determination.

These are the primary thoughts of the two bright Emiratis, who dared to dream that opened up a brave new world for Arab space exploration.

Khaleej Times caught up with the country’s first two astronauts Hazza Al Mansouri and Sultan Al Neyadi for an exclusive virtual conversation while they were undergoing training at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) Johnson Space Centre in Houston, Texas, US.

Also read: (Video) UAE picks first woman astronaut

The duo congratulated the new batch of astronauts and highlighted that the team would continue the UAE’s relentless pursuit towards global leadership in the field of space exploration and manned space missions.

Reminiscing the words of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, Al Mansouri, who had successfully completed the eight-day mission aboard the International Space Station, in 2019, said: “when I was in space His Highness told me… Hazza you are the first but there will be a line behind you one day. Today, Nora Al Matrooshi and Mohammed Al Mulla have crossed the threshold and they have been chosen in the second batch of the UAE Astronaut programme. We’re so happy and excited for them. We’re looking forward to working with them here in Houston.”

The final evaluation committee for the second batch of UAE’s astronaut corp consisted of specialists from Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC), including Emirati astronauts Al Mansouri and Al Neyadi along with their counterparts from NASA such as Jessica Meir and Anne McClain.

The two candidates were selected from the final four after they underwent rigorous tests for physical fitness, communication skills and teamwork.

“What we’re looking for in the second batch was variety… diversification of skill sets and backgrounds and to have the best of the best. Gender is never the criterion. Our leaders and this country believe in gender equality and giving equal opportunities to both male and female,” said Al Mansouri.

“The selection of a female astronaut in the UAE is a strong message: the country will give you an opportunity and will support you in your endeavors if the person is a deserving candidate. I told Al Matrooshi that she has a huge responsibility because she will be the first female astronaut from the Arab world. She will be an inspiration to all, not only to people of this region but even outside. So, we will support her in every way possible,” said the veteran astronaut.

They are looking forward to watching Al Matrooshi in space performing the first Arab female mission.

Despite all record-breaking feats by women, they still remain an overwhelming minority among important ranks and files in the global aerospace industry.

The Emirati astronauts pointed out the shift in global perceptions.

They maintained an unprecedented number of women in high-ranking positions in countries such as the UAE are bucking the global trend.

“Historically, women have been underrepresented in space, but now we see women progressing at a fast pace in space missions. I remember astronaut Christina Koch who spent a whole year in space with no problem or issues. So, today, it is not right to think that if you are a woman, you cannot proceed or perform well in this field or are not capable of performing space missions. This is what we are trying to establish in the UAE. Al Matrooshi is an ideal candidate. She passed all the medical and mental tests and is capable of handling pressure. I’m looking forward to seeing her in space performing the first Arab female mission and we will be by her side, sharing all our expertise,” said Al Neyadi.

Al Mansouri recalled his experience with a female colleague during his maiden flight to space. “I learnt a lot from my colleague Jessica Meir in my first flight. She was sharp both mentally and physically. I feel Emirati women are more confident of their abilities and limitless capabilities, as ascertained by female candidates making up 33 per cent of the applicants for the astronaut corp. Women of this generation are more future-ready and are well prepared. They're capable of doing anything,” he added.

Ready for the future is the key

Al Neyadi shed light on the difference in scenario when the men were selected in the first batch of the UAE Astronaut Programme. He also held forth on the critical role of mentoring that can accelerate development for pioneers in any sector.

“The passion and the enthusiasm are the same in both the batches but what was different is that when we're selected. Initially, we didn’t have the chance to speak to an astronaut from the UAE because we had none. We had the chance to talk to real astronauts only when we arrived for our training outside,” he reminisced.

He added, “I think Al Matrooshi and Al Mulla have an opportunity to reach out to us to know about experiences of the space odyssey. Al Mulla is a skillful helicopter pilot and Al Matrooshi is a bright mechanical engineer. We’re ready to receive them, as we’ve been in constant communication with them. I called them on Saturday and congratulated them and they were really excited. I told them that we are a team now…the national team of astronauts who will be working collaboratively. So, Hazza and I are looking forward to sharing our knowledge and experience with them and supporting them at every possible step.”

Al Mansouri urged the youth to continue on their journey to script a new scientific history for the Arab region.

He said: “Keep learning and keep exploring. In the UAE, nothing is impossible. Be ready for the opportunities. In future you may do something that you today feel is impossible.”

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