UAE's next human space flight mission: Top official reveals how astronauts are already training for it

Salem Al Marri, Director General of the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre, speaks to Khaleej Times about the nation's objectives and mission readiness

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Nandini Sircar

Published: Mon 6 Mar 2023, 4:30 PM

Last updated: Mon 6 Mar 2023, 6:03 PM

The UAE’s Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC) is focusing on keeping its astronauts ‘mission-ready’ for all upcoming missions, with human space flight opportunities possibly landing within three to five years.

Speaking exclusively to Khaleej Times on the sidelines of the ongoing 17th International Conference on Space Operations (SpaceOps 2023) in Dubai, Salem Al Marri, Director General of the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC), opines the country will continue with its future programmes for training national cadres in the space sector, with mission-readiness being one of the top priorities.

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This comes after UAE astronaut Dr Sultan Al Neyadi went to space on March 2, aboard the SpaceX Dragon named Endeavour.

“As a small country, every three to five years - give or take a couple of years - if we get an opportunity, we will take that opportunity and send a UAE astronaut (to space). Flight selection is very specifically based on training, capabilities, health, and situation of the astronaut as well as mission specific technical details. So, maybe Hazzaa is more suited to do one type of mission, Nora (astronaut Nora Al Matrooshi) is more suited to do another type of mission. My objective is hopefully, everyone flies,” says, Al Marri.

He underlines these efforts need to be supported by knowledge, data and innovations of academic and scientific research institutions in the country.

Al Marri avers, “First, we want to have astronauts who are trained, ready and able to conduct any mission. We are moving on that track. So, astronauts must continue their training. Hazzaa (Col. Hazzaa Al Mansouri) is still training. If you have a flight next year or in the next ten years…one has to be continuously training.”

Active participant

“Second, we want to be an active participant of human space flight missions, not just astronauts who are participants on short or long duration flights. However, that means the entire science community, universities, the engineering community here, should be behind what can be done. That’s our long-term strategy,” Al Marri added.

He emphasized that the future strategies developed by the UAE in the space sector looks to enhance its position in the club of pioneering countries in space exploration and development of international cooperation in this sector.

Mission training starts about two years before liftoff with UAE’s Sultan Al Neyadi having trained in Russia and later at NASA for a total period of five years before he was launched into space.

It covers many subjects that include astronomy, geology, aviation, and even photography.

He adds, “Sultan is on a full expedition. This is very historic. We are the 11th country to do this. It’s really an exception to the rule. We expect a lot. So, there are science experiments that we are jointly doing with our universities. He is also conducting 200 science experiments on behalf of the National Laboratories in the US… all of the 15 countries of ISS. He is doing experiments on their behalf and is continuously learning. That experience is being shared with us."

"There are experiments like heart cells beating in microgravity, how structures are 3D printed in microgravity, how things are grown etc… all of these things support science and development back here. ISS is a unique lab, and we expect a lot out of this mission.”

Elucidating on global partnerships, Al Marri notes that the aim is to have safe, reliable and cost-effective access to and from the International Space Station, while fostering commercial access to other potential low-Earth orbit destinations.

He adds, “We have legacy of the Russians, and we have the new commercial crew. This one (last one) was a NASA mission. There are also other missions like the Axiom, Inspiration4 where you can buy your own capsule and go to space. There are a lot of options.

“If the objective of our (UAE) mission and the training of our astronauts align (with the missions), and the coming together will lead to a useful mission, then we will surely look at it seriously.”

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Nandini Sircar

Published: Mon 6 Mar 2023, 4:30 PM

Last updated: Mon 6 Mar 2023, 6:03 PM

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