How UAE's first astronaut, space doctor will assist Sultan AlNeyadi's historic spacewalk from Earth

Emirati team at the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre will be very busy in following every move and all the action from the ISS

By Sahim Salim, Angel Tesorero

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Published: Thu 27 Apr 2023, 4:16 PM

Last updated: Fri 28 Apr 2023, 9:55 AM

All eyes will be on UAE's Sultan AlNeyadi as he takes the first step for the Arab world's historic spacewalk on Friday. It will be streamed live across various channels. AlNeyadi's family will be watching; the UAE and the world will be observing.

But there will be two teams that will closely monitor AlNeyadi's every step and movement – from checking his vital signs to prepping and suiting up the 300-pound spacesuit; to opening the hatch and stepping out of an airlock and actual egress from the International Space Station (ISS); tethering and securing of foot restraints; retrieval and stowing of tools; to the moment he returns to the airlock for ingress and conclusion of the extravehicular activity or spacewalk.


In an exclusive interview on the eve of AlNeyadi's and Nasa astronaut Stephen Bowen's spacewalk, Adnan AlRais, mission manager of the UAE Astronaut Programme, told Khaleej Times that aside from Nasa's Johnson Space Centre, the Emirati team at the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC) will be very busy in following all the action from the ISS.

Adnan AlRais
Adnan AlRais

"MBRSC is connected to Houston and other stations of the international space community. We have full access to every video (from ISS); we have been involved in the planning process. We have access to all communications from the astronauts and on the ground. Our (MBRSC) team will be coordinating with Houston about anything required from our side," AlNeyadi shared.


Hazzaa’s role

Hazzaa AlMansoori
Hazzaa AlMansoori

In fact, one person who will be extra busy on the ground is pioneering UAE astronaut Hazzaa AlMansoori, who will be the point of contact between the ground team and ISS crew during real-time operations for Expedition 69.

MBRSC, early this month, announced that AlMansoori, the first Emirati who went to space, is the Increment Lead "responsible for preparing, implementing and overseeing the execution of the mission".

His role entails more than just transmitting data. "It includes understanding and appreciating the crew's challenges and triumphs in space," AlMansoori earlier said, adding: "We aim to advance human space exploration through our collective efforts to support Expedition 69."

AlRais said AlMansoori, who is currently at Johnson Space Centre, will lead the follow-up activities for the first spacewalk of ISS Expedition 69 that started in March this year.

Space doctor

Dr Hanan AlSuwaidi
Dr Hanan AlSuwaidi

Aside from AlMansoori, another vital member of the team is Dr Hanan AlSuwaidi, who is the flight doctor for the longest Arab space mission in history. She monitors the health of AlNeyadi while he is in space.

"Dr AlSuwaidi is also in Houston, working with other flight surgeons. They have reviewed AlNeyadi and Bowen's health status and are both ready for the big day," AlRais noted.

He added the medical team would also conduct remote post-spacewalk health checks and would follow up on the physical condition of the spacewalking astronauts in the next couple of days.

Teamwork

It will be the eighth spacewalk for Bowen and the first for AlNeyadi. The duo will spend around 6 hours, 30 mins "in the vacuum of space" to upgrade the power generation system of the orbiting ISS. Bowen will serve as extravehicular crew member 1 (EV 1) – or spacewalker 1. He will wear a spacesuit with red stripes. AlNeyadi will serve as extravehicular crew member 2 (EV 2) and will wear a suit with white stripes.

The ground team in Houston will work in multiple shifts before, during and after the spacewalk. Every aspect will be covered, and there are also contingency plans in case anything goes wrong. They will have access to videos from the astronauts' helmet cameras.

According to Nasa, about every 90 minutes, the astronauts will check their gloves and helmet absorption pad (HAP) to make sure there is no water inside their helmets or tears in the gloves. The ground teams will also monitor the astronauts' oxygen level, water for cooling, battery power and carbon dioxide removal.

Aboard the ISS, Nasa flight engineers Woody Hoburg and Frank Rubio Hoburg will assist AlNeyadi and Bowen in and out of their spacesuits and closely monitor their spacewalk.

angel@khaleejtimes.com/sahim@khaleejtimes.com

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