Emirati night with traditional food, free time on ISS: UAE astronaut reveals key experiences from time in space

Despite the obstacles, AlNeyadi expressed his desire to embark on another space journey with his fellow crewmates

by

Nandini Sircar

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Published: Wed 13 Sep 2023, 1:28 PM

Emirati astronaut Sultan AlNeyadi recounted numerous note-worthy experiences during his inaugural press conference following his return to Earth after his six-month mission aboard the International Space Station (ISS).

Speaking at a Nasa news conference on Tuesday, from the Johnson Space Center in Houston, AlNeyadi opened up about UAE’s sustainable space programme, his favourite food, exercise routines, his experiments, and outreach activities, what he did during his spare time in the 184 days in orbit, and how he felt physically, following his return to the home planet.


Despite the numerous obstacles, AlNeyadi expressed his desire to embark on another space journey and, if given the opportunity, reunite with his fellow crewmates for the voyage.

Alone time during spacewalk

Sultan AlNeyadi was also the first Arab to undertake a spacewalk on 28 April 2023 as part of his long-haul mission. The pioneering Arab spacewalk lasted for seven hours, making the UAE the 10th country with a spacewalking citizen.


Shedding light on his experience of the first Extravehicular activity (EVA), AlNeyadi explained when he peered through the fragile glass (of the visor), he seized the opportunity to take some pictures and to embrace the precious moment.

“Our IV, I think [it] was McLean, who told me, ‘take five minutes to take some pictures’. It was really great…just to have that moment and look down at Earth and see just nothing. What protects you from dying is just a thin glass and you see everything crystal clear. So, I did get some time to take some pictures and to absorb the moment.”

Favourite food in space

Since November 2000, the space station has remained consistently inhabited by astronauts who receive a meticulously balanced diet, ensuring they receive all essential nutrients, vitamins, and minerals necessary to sustain their well-being and vitality within the challenging space environment.

Talking about the spread for astronauts onboard the ISS AlNeyadi explained that they had a diverse menu that included food from organisations like the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), the European Space Agency (ESA), and Nasa.

“We had a big menu. We got food from JAXA and ESA. We had the standard menu from Nasa, and we tried some Emirati food as well. We did an Emirati night where we tried some Emirati food. Six months is a long duration and sometimes one might feel bored of a specific food, but I had a specific food that I really liked right until the end of the mission which was a ‘mango salad’. It was my favourite throughout the mission,” he said.

What did he do in his spare time?

While various astronauts had their own ways to occupy their free time, the 42-year-old stressed that a primary focus for him was placed on connecting with people during their spare time and sharing his experience.

He said they were lucky enough to have a proper division of time while on the ISS.

“We had the month of Science and a month of EVA/Axiom and then a month of Maintenance and then again, a month of EVAs and then maintenance. It was really nice to have a variety of actions going on. But in my spare time, I would definitely go, looking down at Earth and trying to capture that (those moments) and sharing it. Honestly, a big part of my mission was just to share everything I do, and the outreach programmes, talking to students through ham radio or direct calls. The engagement with people was a big focus of my activities during my off time.”

6 months of weightlessness

Recalling his time in space AlNeyadi said he had a memorable experience during six months of weightlessness. He enjoyed experimenting with various aspects of physics as the astronauts engaged in various fun activities.

“Six months of weightlessness was amazing. It was really cool just trying all aspects of physics and using minimal force to go from one place to another. We had some competitions…I mean going from the station forward to trying to float without touching any cables or hitting any walls or anything. So, it was really fun just enjoying weightlessness for the period of the mission.”

Meanwhile, Al Neyadi also conducted numerous scientific experiments, with one of the key experiments being working on ‘beating heart cells in weightlessness’ using heart tissues. This activity by the UAE astronaut was especially mentioned by his crewmate Warren Hoburg during the conversation.

Entering UAE’s history books in all humility

Responding to a query about how he feels about entering the history books of his motherland, AlNeyadi emphasised, “Honestly, I don’t think of my mission as a record. Records can be broken easily but I would love to think of it as (something that had) a good impact and a good mission. It is really nice to see the youngsters and the community overall just talking about space and why we go to space. Why do we do science in space? So, to me, that is more important. I want to go back and share the experience and answer questions. I want to share my perspective of my mission.”

UAE’s sustainable space programme

“I am humbled by this experience (of going to space) ... I often get asked if I want to go to space again. And I say, I’d definitely want to go,” he said.

He stressed that the UAE's space programme is “continuous” and that the mission has a sustainable agenda.

“My mission is a continuation of the space programme that started with my colleague Hazza AlMansouri ... this is the second mission. We have astronauts under training that will finish next year. So, it's a continuation of human space flights. And I'm happy actually to be part of it.”

Highlighting the UAE's dedication to advancing its space endeavours, he stated that the nation had signed the Artemis Accords for lunar exploration. “Hopefully we'll get to be part of it in the future,” he added.

Challenges of adjusting to Earth’s weightiness

He also talked about adjusting to weightiness and gravity on returning to Earth after his long-haul mission aboard the ISS. Feeling gravity was so intense that he found it challenging to even hold a bottle of water.

Everything really felt heavy. I was the last one to egress the capsule. I didn’t realise that I was off straps until the recovery teams started to pull me. It was only my weight pushing me towards the seat."

He recalled being offered a bottle of water. “It felt really heavy ... I didn’t drink it because I didn’t want to move a lot.”

But despite the initial discomfort, he marveled at how rapidly his body started to recover.

“It’s amazing how quickly one can get better. It’s by the hour. You start moving your arms, then you stand and move your legs.”

Thanking teams on Earth

AlNeyadi also emphasized the importance of the recovery teams, flight surgeons, and rehabilitation facilities in helping astronauts return to normalcy swiftly. “I think this is an opportunity to thank everybody in the recovery team, the flight surgeons, and everybody in the rehabilitation facilities to help us get back to normal as quickly as possible.”

“It’s amazing how quickly you start recovering ... It’s not easy, you might have some difficulty walking, you might have motion sickness,” he added.



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