UAE astronaut blasts off to ISS: Soon, 3 Arabs to be in space at the same time for first time ever

Sultan AlNeyadi is expected to be joined by two 'najmonauts' from Saudi Arabia by the second quarter of this year

By Web Desk

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Published: Thu 2 Mar 2023, 2:52 PM

Last updated: Thu 2 Mar 2023, 2:57 PM

Arabs are making progress by leaps and bounds in the world of space exploration.

On Thursday, March 2, UAE astronaut Sultan AlNeyadi made history when he blasted off to space aboard the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft from the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida. The successful liftoff is not just a source of pride for the UAE, but the entire Arab world, as AlNeyadi's endeavour will mark the longest Arab space mission in history. He is also only the fourth Arab to make it to space.

And yet, while the region celebrates today's milestone, the Arab world will have one more major milestone to look forward to — sooner rather than later.

Landmark moment

Last year, it was announced that two astronauts from Saudi Arabia will journey to the International Space Station, joining AlNeyadi and his crew in the second quarter of this year. The two 'najmonauts' (a phrase coined from 'najm', the Arabic word for star) are Rayyanah Barnawi and Ali AlQarni. Their arrival at the ISS will mark another landmark moment for the region — because for the first time ever, there will be three Arabs in space and on board the space station at the same time.

“It’s going to be really exciting, really interesting” to have three Arabs in space at once, he said last week. “Our region is thirsty to learn more.”

NASA Astronaut Bill Shepherd and cosmonauts Yuri Gidzenko and Sergei Krikalev were the first crew to reside onboard the station in 2000. Since then, the ISS has received over 200 visitors, with the UAE's own Hazza AlMansouri making history in 2019 by becoming the first Arab astronaut to the space station.

Saudis to space

For Saudi Arabia too, more than one record will be set with their space mission this spring. Rayyanah Barnawi will be the first female astronaut from Saudi Arabia in space. She and her colleague, Ali AlQarni, are scheduled to travel along with retired Nasa astronaut Peggy Whitson and race car driver and investor John Shoffner.

The two Saudi astronauts will spend around a week at the space station after riding SpaceX's Crew Dragon capsule, according to Reuters.

Current UAE mission

UAE's AlNeyadi will spend six months in the orbiting laboratory conducting at least 20 experiments, along with Nasa astronauts Stephen Bowen and Warren Hoburg and Roscosmos cosmonaut Andrey Fedyaev. The launch was delayed by three days due to a ground control systems issue.

AlNeyadi addressed the world in Arabic from aboard the Dragon Endeavour spacecraft as it was cruising towards the ISS.

"Assalamualaikum (traditional Arabic and Islamic greeting that means peace be upon you)," he began, as he announced that he would start off with a few words in Arabic. "Shukran jazeelan (thanks a lot)."

Calling the experience incredible and amazing, he said: "Thank you to everyone, my parents, family, leadership and Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre. Thank you everyone who trained us and got us ready. Thanks, Nasa and Space X. Go, Dragon! Go, Falcon!"


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