Destination Moon: Will a UAE minister fly to the Lunar surface?

The Emirates will be supplying an airlock for a proposed Lunar Gateway station

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Nandini Sircar

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AFP File
AFP File

Published: Wed 10 Jan 2024, 2:45 PM

Last updated: Thu 11 Jan 2024, 12:33 AM

The upcoming Moon mission might include an Emirati astronaut from the UAE's current astronaut corps, a future member yet to be selected, or even a cabinet minister.

The recent announcement of the inclusion of the Gateway airlock positions the UAE for yet another achievement, as one of its astronauts will create history by becoming the first Emirati to orbit the Moon.

According to the agreement between the UAE and the US, the former will supply an airlock akin to an airtight room for the proposed Lunar Gateway station, used to exit and enter a space station.

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Additionally, as part of the arrangement, the UAE will also ensure a seat on an upcoming Moon mission, aiming to send the first Emirati to orbit the Moon.

When questioned about which astronaut would make it to the Artemis mission, Salem Al Marri, Director General of the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC) told Khaleej Times, “We have four astronauts, and each one of the four astronauts is equally important to us. But each one of them has an opportunity to fly.”

Trained to be mission-ready

He stressed the training will prepare all individuals equally for the mission regardless of their background.

“They will be trained, and they all will be ready for such a mission. We will then select the most appropriate astronaut based on what the mission requires. So, I want them all to have an equal chance whether those astronauts are ministers or not,” he quipped.

News of UAE astronaut Sultan Al Neyadi has made headlines globally, after he was appointed Minister of Youth in a cabinet reshuffle announced last Saturday.

Taking to platform X, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of UAE and Ruler of Dubai earlier said “(Al Neyadi) he has served his country in the military and space sector, as well as served humanity in the scientific field.”

Marri reiterated capability and physical fitness are the top priorities for selection. “As long as they are trained, ready, and healthy, and they've gone through the (training) process, they will all have a fair chance.”

‘Happiest news in my career’

Meanwhile, expressing his joy on the UAE’s space hero Al Neyadi being appointed as a minister after the cabinet reshuffle, Marri exclaimed, “I think that’s probably one of the happiest pieces of news that I've heard in my career. It showcases the success of the project and the programme.”

“A lot of people ask, ‘Why do we explore space what's the benefit of astronauts?’ But to see the influence of Sultan’s (Sultan Al Neyadi) mission, the impact of him as a person on our people, the youth of the country, the youth of the region, and the wider Arab world, and then for him to be appointed as Minister of Youth shows the success of the programme,” he added.

He emphasised it’s evident that the decision-makers are pleased with the astronaut program.

Sheikh Mohammed’s tweet also underlined that public nominations played a role in the selection process. He had added Al Neyadi will “continue to perform his scientific and space duties in addition to his new responsibilities.”

Additionally, the UAE VP had revealed that while they had received several nominations for the role, one name kept cropping up repeatedly: AlNeyadi’s.

“It shows that our leadership and our decision-makers are very happy with the astronaut programme. They're very happy with Sultan and with the MBRSC. So, that makes me extremely happy,” said Marri.

The MBRSC DG elaborated that what further added to his happiness was the directive from Sheikh Mohammed of not only appointing Al Neyadi as the Minister of Youth but the fact that he would also continue his active role as an astronaut.

“What even makes me happier is that His Highness in his tweet had directed that Sultan will become the Minister of Youth, and he will also continue as an active astronaut. So, for me, that is good news that we will still have Sultan’s capabilities and his wonderful work ethic in continuing as an astronaut. We will make sure that he is trained and ready for missions going forward,” he said.

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