Talking to Sheikh Mohammed, eating scrambled eggs, harvesting tomatoes: How UAE's Sultan of Space spent his 1st week on ISS

A look back at the Emirati astronaut's journey in space so far

By Angel Tesorero

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AFP
AFP

Published: Fri 10 Mar 2023, 6:00 AM

Last updated: Sat 11 Mar 2023, 6:38 PM

It’s been a week since UAE pioneering astronaut Sultan AlNeyadi safely arrived at the orbiting International Space Station (ISS) – his home for six months – where he is conducting various scientific experiments in microgravity.

It has been a busy week no less, and Khaleej Times has reported all the highlights and sidelights – from AlNeyadi’s first public call and conversation with His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, from 420km above Earth as the ISS was orbiting at around 28,000 kph; to his ham radio conversation with Dubai students, where he said he had scrambled eggs for breakfast that day; to the moment he took his first selfie with the blue Earth on the background, and his floating tour of the ISS; and to the time he started his experiment harvesting tomatoes in space.


Here’s a look back in the past week:

Friday, March 3

Reuters
Reuters

After blasting off from Kennedy Space Centre in Florida at 9.43am on Thursday, the autonomous-flying Crew Dragon Endeavour spacecraft that carried AlNeyadi and his Crew-6 colleagues – Nasa mission commander Stephen Bowen, Nasa pilot Warren Hoburg, and Roscosmos cosmonaut Andrey Fedyaev – made a 25-hour journey to reach the orbiting space laboratory.


They were supposed to be ahead of schedule but the space capsule was put on ‘hold’ from docking 20 metres away from the space station. The ground control teams in Houston, Texas investigated an alarm and conducted a software override for the faulty microsensor.

At 10.40am (UAE time), Crew Dragon Endeavour made a successful docking, and at 10.54am, following the completion of hard capture where 12 hooks were driven for docking, the ground control in Houston announced: 'Ahlan Wa Sahlan' (welcome), followed by a greeting in English and Russian.

At 12.45pm the same day, AlNeyadi and the rest of the Crew-6, including Suhail – the white and blue plushie in Space X suit and so-called fifth member of crew – entered the station, floating one by one.

The UAE then became only the 11th country in the world that was able to send an astronaut on a long-term mission to space.

Saturday-Sunday, March 4-5

After a brief welcoming ceremony and orientation the previous day, Crew-6 settled for some much-needed sleep on Saturday. Temporary sleeping quarters, called the Crew Alternate Sleep Accommodation, were installed to make space for all 11 of the crew members aboard the ISS. The newly-arrived crew also used the weekend to take much needed rest to help their bodies adapt to the new living and working condition in space

March 6/ Monday

Start of a busy week. AlNeyadi and his Crew-6 colleagues are “getting up to speed” with life aboard the ISS as they start to familiarise themselves with space station operations and systems.

The foursome spent Monday installing new space biology hardware, replacing electronic components, and updating emergency procedures for the expanded crew.

Meanwhile, four Expedition 68 crew members – flight engineers Nicole Mann and Josh Cassada of Nasa along with Koichi Wakata of Jaxa (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) and Anna Kikina of Roscosmos – are getting ready to complete their mission and return to Earth.

Tuesday, March 7

AlNeyadi made his first public call to Earth and at the other end of the line — about 400km away from his orbital outpost — was none other than His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai.

AlNeyadi, who is now on fifth day of his six-month mission, said his body is still coping with microgravity, unlike Suhail that has apparently adapted to life in space, as seen floating aboard the ISS.

During the live video call, Sheikh Mohammed's inspirational words reverberated in space as he lauded AlNeyadi for fulfilling an Arab dream.

“I always say that everything is possible for the people of the UAE, and our strong will makes the impossible possible,” said Sheikh Mohammed, adding: “Today, our flag has reached space and flies around Mars,” referring to the country’s successful Hope Probe mission to the Red Planet.

“The aspiration began in the 1970s with the late Sheikh Zayed’s dream and determination to explore space and etch the name of the UAE not only on Earth, but also in the sky. “The best is yet to come,” he added.

Tuesday, March 7

AlNeyadi took a break from his work aboard ISS and had a candid ham radio conversation with the students of Jumeirah College Dubai.

He said his trip to the ISS was like a ‘really, really fast rollercoaster’ ride to space. He also gamely shared what he had for breakfast that day – scrambled eggs and coffee; how he has been sleeping; what he misses most; how he communicates with his family, and more.

One student asked AlNeyadi how he keeps himself entertained and he answered: “For me, the biggest entertainment is floating. It is amazing.” He added he has been sleeping while strapped to the wall so he will not float around.

Another student, meanwhile, had an endearing message for AlNeyadi. Derin Joelle Rall, 12, said: “Be strong and stay healthy.”

Wednesday, March 8

AlNeyadi posted his first selfie from space. Wearing a blue T-shirt with the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre logo, AlNeyadi is seen smiling widely as planet Earth glows blue and white above his head.

“Salute from space to Earth,” he posted on Twitter. “I salute our homeland and its leaders. I salute all those who carried the late Sheikh Zayed’s ambition in their hearts and aim high. The dream has come true and now we dream bigger.”

Wednesday, March 8

Are astronauts like AlNeyadi eating also fresh salad in space like on Earth? The Sultan of Space answered that as he harvested tomatoes grown at ISS. Leafy greens and fresh vegetables are also part of the astronaut diet.

The tomatoes, however, are not only for salad, they are part of space study too. According to Nasa, the Veg-05 space botany study is part of an investigation called ‘Pick-and-Eat Salad-Crop Productivity, Nutritional Value, and Acceptability to Supplement the ISS Food System'. It is "the next step in efforts to address the need for a continuous fresh-food production system in space".

“The research of Veg-05 expands crop variety to dwarf tomatoes and focuses on the impact of light quality and fertiliser on fruit production, microbial food safety, nutritional value, taste acceptability by the crew, and the overall behavioural health benefits of having plants and fresh food in space,” Nasa added.

Thursday, March 9

AlNeyadi shares a video showing him floating around ISS, with stunning views of Earth from space. At the time of taking the video, the orbital outpost is over the African continent. "The further we journey from Earth, the more we realise just how precious it truly is. Let us cherish and preserve this incredible planet we call home," he tweeted.

With a camera in his hand, AlNeyadi also gave the world a guided tour of the orbital outpost. He started the video with the traditional Arab-Islamic greeting of Assalamualaikum, which means peace be upon you.

Friday, March 10

Today, the four Expedition 68 crew members are nearing the end of their stay aboard the ISS this weekend. The SpaceX Crew Dragon Endurance with four crewmates is targeted to depart the space station at 11.05am (UAE time) tomorrow, Saturday, and return to Earth less than 24 hours later on Sunday.

Nasa astronauts Nicole Mann and Josh Cassada will command and pilot Endurance respectively flanked by Koichi Wakata of JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) and Anna Kikina of Roscosmos. The foursome is due to splashdown off the coast of Florida.

AlNeyadi and the newest crew members of ISS are now one week into their orbital residency at the ISS.

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