UAE astronaut to spacewalk soon: 'Only thing between you and Earth is a visor'

Sultan AlNeyadi 'fully trained and prepared' for this type of mission, says first Emirati in space Hazzaa Al Mansouri


Nandini Sircar

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Photo: Hazza Al Mansouri
Photo: Hazza Al Mansouri

Published: Mon 17 Apr 2023, 6:00 AM

Last updated: Mon 17 Apr 2023, 6:01 PM

Colonel Hazzaa Al Mansouri, the first Emirati astronaut to ever fly to space, in 2019, emphasises that the spacewalk, the ultimate, high-altitude hike, is absolutely stunning, and grants astronauts who conduct it a unique perspective that few get to witness in their lifetime.

Even with a visor on, the experience of being in space is intense and profound. Colonel Al Mansouri believes that Sultan AlNeyadi, who is set to participate in a spacewalk on April 28, is “fully trained and prepared for this type of mission”.

He notes that astronauts who have conducted spacewalks describe the experience as “amazing”, with only the visor separating them from the Earth.

He says, “The experience that I’ve heard from different astronauts who’ve conducted the spacewalk is described as ‘amazing’. The only thing between you and the Earth is the visor.”

Compared to how often an astronaut performs other tasks, spacewalks are relatively rare, expensive, time-consuming, and most of all, dangerous.

“It's a totally different experience. You feel like you're floating (outside). It’s a very complex job as one remains outside for six hours continuously, outside the space station. The only thing that attaches you to the station are the tethers,” adds Al Manosuri.

The preparation for the spacewalk starts days before the space travellers go out into the void. Astronauts prepare by checking every part of their suit and their tools, making sure they're both assembled and tethered properly.

To perform spacewalks, astronauts wear a bulky suit known as the Extravehicular Mobility Unit (EMU), which protects them from solar radiation, debris and extreme temperatures.

It apparently takes about 45 minutes to put on this suit, including the time it takes to put on the special undergarments that help keep astronauts cool.

The astronaut must spend a little more than an hour breathing pure oxygen before going outside the pressurised module once they have put on the spacesuit. This is done to adapt to the lower pressure maintained in the suit.

“So, you have to be methodical, and you have to be precise. The movement and environment of weightlessness is really very tricky. That feeling of being in a light environment makes one like he/she is being pushed away from the station,” adds Major Al Mansouri.

Everything, including the astronaut, must be tethered at all times. Astronauts mostly use their hands to get around, pulling themselves where they need to go.

Due to the complexity of the training process, astronauts are trained at Nasa's Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory (NBL), which is a large indoor pool that measures 202 feet in length, 102 feet in width, and 40 feet in depth (with 20 feet above ground level, and 20 feet below). The pool holds 6.2 million gallons of water, making it one of the largest indoor pools in the world.

The NBL facility closely resembles the conditions that astronauts experience in space. The facility also includes various tools and equipment needed for EVAs. According to Nasa, an astronaut trains for approximately seven hours in the pool for every hour they might spend walking in space.

It’s said that this underwater training is used by astronauts to prepare for spacewalks. They practice tasks like connecting cables and removing equipment in a low-gravity environment. The training helps improve their communication and teamwork skills, while preparing them for complex tasks in a challenging environment.

“When we trained in the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory back in Johnson Space Center, in NBL, we trained in the EMU suits which for the spacewalk. We’ve been trained alongside different astronauts and cosmonauts in that suit. So, all of us… we all are qualified to do the spacewalk. Sultan is ready as any other astronaut from Nasa or from Russia,” adds Al Mansouri.


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