Meet UAE's 'Sultan of Space': 10 things you need to know about Emirati astronaut Al Neyadi

From spending Ramadan to demonstrating his martial arts skills in space, he will have an action-packed 6-month mission

By Angel Lee Tesorero​

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Published: Thu 23 Feb 2023, 6:00 AM

Last updated: Thu 2 Mar 2023, 12:30 PM

Emirati astronaut Sultan Al Neyadi has been training for the past five years and now, he is a few days away from fulfilling his dream and the UAE’s ambition of sending the first Arab on a long-duration space mission.

Before he blasts to space on Monday as part of Nasa’s SpaceX Crew-6 that will stay aboard the International Space Station (ISS) for six months, we look back at the history, background and journey of the pioneering UAE astronaut dubbed as ‘Sultan of Space.’

Here are top 10 things to know about Al Neyadi:

1. Boy from Al Ain

Al Neyadi was born on May 23, 1981 in Umm Ghafa, which is 30 kilometers southeast of Al Ain, in Abu Dhabi. He was an excellent student who received his primary and secondary education in Al Ain. Al Neyadi’s father was a military man and it was him who inspired Al Neyadi to join the service.

Now 41, Al Neyadi saw his sixth child born recently. He even quipped about this during an online press briefing where he said his number of children now matches his crew mission number (Crew-6).

His family lives in Al Ain, and in an earlier interview, he said the most difficult thing during the upcoming six-month mission would be staying away from them.

2. Published IT expert

Al Neyadi studied abroad and earned a Bachelor of Science in Electronics and Communications Engineering from University of Brighton in UK. After graduation, he returned to the country to serve in the UAE Armed Forces.

He pursued graduate studies and went to Australia to receive his master’s degree in IT (information technology) from Griffith University in 2008. He worked as a network security engineer for the UAE Armed Forces, and visited more than 20 countries as part of his work.

In 2012, he returned to Australia for five years, and earned a PhD in Information Technology (Data Leakage Prevention). As an IT expert, he has published six research papers in international websites.

3. Space pioneer

Al Neyadi was the back-up for Hazzaa Al Mansoori, who was the first Emirati astronaut who went to space for eight days aboard the ISS in September 2019, under the slogan ‘Zayed’s Ambition’. The duo were selected among more than 4,000 candidates as pioneers of the UAE Astronaut Programme that was launched in 2017.

4. Comprehensive training

On September 3, 2018, both Al Neyadi and Al Mansoori began their training at the Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Centre at Star City in Moscow. They also did training in Houston, Texas and Cologne, Germany, as part of UAE’s partnership agreements with NASA (US Space Agency), European Space Agency (ESA), and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA).

For the September 25 mission, AlNeyadi and Al Mansoori did comprehensive training on all sections and units of the ISS , including how to operate its devices and equipment, dealing with low pressure and ammonia leak inside the station, and putting out a fire. They also did training in a cold forest and performing daily tasks such as preparing food, how to use a camera to document events and take pictures of Earth from space, as well as communicating with the ground stations. In all, they did more than 90 courses and clocked in more than 1,400 hours of training.

5. Continuous preparation

Following Al Mansoori’s successful sojourn in space, the UAE took its space exploration further and announced the Arab world’s first long-duration mission.

In 2019, both Al Neyadi and Al Mansoori began training at Nasa's Johnson Space Centre’s Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory (NBL) to get familiar with microgravity that astronauts experience during space flight. They also learned how to operate an extravehicular mobility unit (EMU and were trained in doing maintenance at the ISS. They also underwent incapacitated crew rescue (ICR), and completed theoretical and practical training sessions on a T-38 jet.

After 20 months of continuous training, the two Emirati astronauts were granted the Nasa astronaut’s pin, a badge that certified that they have completed their basic training and are qualified for space mission assignments.

6. Space ambassador

On July 25, 2022, President His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan and His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, announced the selection of Al Neyadi to participate in the first long-term mission to the International Space Station (ISS), as part of Nasa's Space-X Crew-6 mission that would launch in the first quarter of 2023.

Sheikh Mohamed noted the UAE is the 11th country in the world to announce a long-term mission to space. He also called Al Neyadi as a role model for Emirati youth and an ambassador for all Arabs in the space race.

7. Space experiments

A total of 250 research experiments will be carried out by Crew-6 during their six-month mission to the ISS, and Al Neyadi will personally conduct at least 20 experiments, apart from fulfilling other tasks and conducting maintenance work on the orbiting science laboratory.

Al Neyadi himself will be the subject of several experiments while he is onboard the ISS. He said earlier: “We are subjects ourselves. We’ll have a lot of sensors on us when we do experiments. These machines log our sleep, our vascular activities, breathing and so on. There is radiation in space and loosening of muscles. How do we control (or mitigate) these things are also part of our medical experiments.”

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, and 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.

8. Ramadan and dates in space

Aside from conducting scientific experiments, Al Neyadi will also spread Emirati culture and share some dates during Ramadan aboard the ISS. “I wouldn't miss carrying dates with me as they are a special request by commander Bowen,” he quipped during a press briefing on Tuesday at Nasa's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Al Neyadi said he will prepare for Ramadan with the intention to fast but he also clarified that he is not obligated to fast as he is considered as a traveller. He explained he is allowed to eat sufficient food “to prevent anything that can jeopardise the mission or put any member of the crew at risk due to lack of food and hydration.”

9. Martial arts in ISS

Al Neyadi said he has packed his Jiu-Jitsu kimono and will demonstrate his martial arts skills while cruising in space. Keeping his body in top shape is vital to accomplishing his space mission and Al Neyadi, who has been training Jiu-Jitsu for almost a decade, said it has kept him in top form during his hectic training. "I was flexible, had good physical strength and was able to focus mentally for long periods,” he noted.

10. Al Neyadi’s social media

Al Neyadi is active on social media. He has over 27,500 followers on Twitter and he regularly posts highlights of his life and training on @Astro_Alneyadi.

Meanwhile, the UAE's Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC) announced on Wednesday a new launch date and time for the first Arab long-duration astronaut mission.

The Falcon 9 rocket and the Dragon Endeavour spacecraft that will carry Crew-6 are scheduled to set off on Monday, February 27, from Launch Complex 39A at Nasa's Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 10.45am (UAE time).


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