UAE astronaut back on Earth after 186 days of making history in space

Sultan AlNeyadi landed off the coast of Jacksonville, Florida, on Monday morning in the SpaceX Dragon Endeavour


Nandini Sircar

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Photo: Nasa
Photo: Nasa

Published: Mon 4 Sep 2023, 4:40 PM

Last updated: Mon 4 Sep 2023, 10:08 PM

Emirati astronaut Sultan AlNeyadi splashed down safely in the SpaceX Dragon Endeavour in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Jacksonville, Florida, at 8:17 am on Monday, after 186 days in space.

He greeted the moment with a smile and a thumbs-up, signifying his return to Earth's gravity after completing the long-haul mission.

Meanwhile, following AlNeyadi's triumphant return to Earth, Salem AlMarri – Director General, MBRSC said, “Our joy is indescribable… In these historic six months, we have achieved all the strategic goals of this mission. The longest Arab space mission in history has provided scientific data from over 200 experiments, including research from Emirati universities, and strengthened our ties with the scientific community."

He emphasised that the mission also provided an educational and outreach programme that inspired audiences and students from the UAE, alongside millions of people on social media, igniting their passion for space.

“The mission made history by witnessing the first Arab spacewalk. We convey our gratitude to the UAE’s wise leadership for their continuous support. We would also like to thank our partners at Nasa, SpaceX and other global agencies, our colleagues at MBRSC who worked day and night, and of course, you Sultan, for making this memorable mission possible."

"We are also grateful to Hazzaa AlMansoori who played a key role in this expedition with Sultan as the Increment Lead. Together, our Emirati astronauts have made our nation proud alongside the support of our global partners,” he added.

How did it happen?

The spacecraft successfully executed it's deorbit burn, leading to a splashdown in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Jacksonville, Florida. Approximately four minutes before the planned splashdown, the drogue parachutes were deployed at an altitude of roughly 18,000 feet. This deployment played a crucial role in slowing down the Dragon spacecraft, which was travelling at a speed of approximately 560 kilometres per hour.

In less than a minute, following the drogue chute deployment, the main parachutes were deployed at an altitude of around 6,000 feet, leading to the spacecraft's safe descent.

After the splashdown, teams on the SpaceX recovery ship, including two fast boats, secured Dragon and ensured the spacecraft was safe for the recovery effort.

As the fast boat teams completed their work, the recovery ship Megan moved into position to hoist Dragon onto the main deck with the astronauts inside.

Once on the main deck, AlNeyadi was taken out from the Dragon spacecraft exactly one hour following the splashdown. As anticipated, his initial steps were unsteady, as crew members typically require some time to readjust to gravity, particularly after lengthy missions.

Like his colleagues, AlNeyadi received support, and observers witnessed him sliding out of the capsule. With a smile and a thumbs-up, he welcomed the moment.

Subsequently, he was aided into a rolling chair before being transported to the medical bay for health checkups. All the astronauts were greeted with applause both on the deck and at the ground station.

On the recovery ship, AlNeyadi was received by MBRSC astronaut Hazzaa AlMansoori, Astronauts office manager; Dr Hanan Al Suwaidi, Flight Surgeon for AlNeyadi; and Saeed AlEmadi, from the Strategic Communication Department at MBRSC. A specialised medical team promptly checked his health parameters on site before he headed to a health camp for further tests to gauge his physical condition.

This was followed by a helicopter ride by Alneyadi to board a plane for Houston.

Benign landing for Crew 6

Steve Stich, manager, Commercial Crew Program, Nasa Kennedy during a teleconference said, “The return was delayed by a couple of days. We were really looking for good weather. A high pressure system was setting up over the US and moving down over Florida. We took advantage of that today to land successfully at about 12:17am EDT (8.17am UAE time). The weather was exactly as we predicted. We've been looking at this weather for about the last 24 to 48 hours. The seas were about five feet, a little higher than we've landed in before but certainly within our weather flight rules and the criteria that SpaceX uses to recover the crew. The crew did really well in those sea states. It was a very nice and benign landing for the crew.”

At Houston airport, Sultan AlNeyadi is being greeted by his father, brothers, wife and a ‘big group of people’ who eagerly await his return at the Ellington airport.

The father of now six children will meet his kids later though.

During an earlier media briefing shortly after the undocking of Crew 6 from the ISS on Sunday, AlMarri, said, “He has family members here (Houston). His brothers, his wife, his father and there's a big group here, who’ve come. There'll be here to welcome him. He'll spend some time with him. He's ready to come back now. He of course misses his family, and he wants to see them.”


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