How watching space cartoons ignited Sultan AlNeyadi's passion for space exploration

The Emirati astronaut is set to fly to the International Space Station along with his SpaceX Crew-6 colleagues on February 27

By Angel Tesorero

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Published: Sun 26 Feb 2023, 6:00 AM

Last updated: Thu 2 Mar 2023, 12:31 PM

UAE astronaut Sultan AlNeyadi is set to become the first Arab to spend six months in space, but did you know that his passion for space exploration was inspired by his love for watching cartoons and animated heroes going to other planets?

In recent Episode 277 of Nasa's ‘Houston We Have a Podcast’, AlNeyadi said: “I grew up in a remote area in the city of Al Ain, the second largest city in the capital, Abu Dhabi. And I was lucky enough, in the 80s, we did not have much light pollution. I could see the Milky Way, the stars… And probably that was the ignition that started everything – thinking about going to space and travelling to other planets.”

“On top of that, I used to love space cartoons and heroes going to other planets,” he added, noting that his dream of going to space has been there since childhood.

Now, it can become reality as in the next couple of days, he and his SpaceX Crew-6 colleagues will fly to the International Space Station (ISS) for a six-month mission. Launch is set for Monday, February 27, from Nasa's Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 10.45am (UAE time).

From Al Ain to ISS, eventually to Mars

The boy from Al Ain who was born on May 23, 1981 in Umm Ghafa, 30 kilometers southeast of Al Ain, in Abu Dhabi is now dubbed as ‘Sultan of Space.’ His exploits aboard the orbiting space laboratory will include conducting various scientific studies and subjecting himself to physical experiments.

In an earlier press interview, he said: “We have a range of experiments like material science and bioscience. The next six months are going to be really busy. We’ll be conducting solid science experiments that we should be able to come back and share with humanity.

“Today, we have an entire generation who wants to go to space that will contribute to greater research and knowledge. We now aspire to live on the Moon and eventually see a settlement on Mars,” he added.

All members of Crew-6, including Al Neyadi, NASA mission commander Stephen Bowen, NASA pilot Warren Hoburg and Roscosmos cosmonaut Andrey Fedyaev, will also help Nasa prepare for crewed missions to the Moon and future long-duration space explorations. They will also conduct experiments on fluidics (study of fluid dynamics in space) and test materials ad how they burn in space and react in microgravity and different atmospheres. Another interesting experiment is the study of heart tissue beating in space, which can lead to a cutting-edge technology in 3D-printing of human organs.

Solid foundation

Going back to the Nasa podcast, AlNeyadi also talked about his military background that gave him a solid foundation. Before becoming an astronaut, AlNeyadi, who is now 41, served in the armed forces for almost 20 years. His father was also military officer and it was him who inspired Al Neyadi to join the service.

He said: “I'm grateful for everything, like the background in academia, the military service. I think this is also something that is helping me right now, just to comprehend the idea of traveling to space.”

Earth watch

AlNeyadi also shared what he is excited about once he reached the ISS that is around 400 kms above Earth. He said: “I think I agree with everybody – all astronauts, they run towards the Cupola (ISS’s observatory module) to watch Earth or see Earth from there.

“(But) I want to do it differently. I want to go there with a camera, hopefully. So I want to share that moment with everybody. I want to capture that moment of looking back, back towards Earth with everybody. That’s the moment I'm looking forward to see,” continued.

These are the things AlNeyadi would like to see from space: “I want to see everything. I want to see home - the UAE; Al Ain, my hometown. I want to see the places that I visited and I liked; where I studied, for example – in the UK and Australia; the oceans, forests, mountains are all on the list,” he said.

“You can't get enough of looking back towards Earth… I don't want to describe myself as an emotional person, but seeing Earth and the magnificent view; that layer of atmosphere that's protecting everything that we know, I think it's a really profound experience for everybody,” added AlNeyadi, who once watched many space cartoons but will be blasting off to space soon.

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