UAE's Sultan AlNeyadi now a 'najmonaut': Meet the only 4 Arabs in this elite circle of space explorers

From a royal to pilots and an IT expert, these pioneers are inspiring the next generation of astronauts for the region

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Photo Courtesy: Nasa
Photo Courtesy: Nasa

Published: Thu 2 Mar 2023, 4:36 PM

Last updated: Thu 2 Mar 2023, 9:43 PM

Space used to be a place not many Arabs dared to go to — but that has been changing over the past few years. With the UAE taking giant leaps into the future, it is shaping a generation of Arabs raring to shoot for the stars.

'Astronauts' is not what they are called now in the Arab world — it's 'najmonauts'. Taking root from the Arabic word 'najm', which means star, the term coined by science experts highlighted the growing movement of space exploration in the region.


On Thursday, Emirati Sultan AlNeyadi officially joined this elite circle of 'najmonauts', with only three other Arabs blasting off to space before him.

The number of people in this group, however, could easily double in the next few years, with Saudi sending two explorers Rayyanah Barnawi and Ali AlQarni to the ISS in the second quarter of the year. The UAE also has two more astronauts in the making, Mohammad AlMulla and Nora AlMatrooshi.


Currently, here are the four 'najmonauts' and their achievements:

1. Prince Sultan bin Salman Al Saud

Photo Courtesy: Nasa
Photo Courtesy: Nasa

Saudi royal Prince Sultan bin Salman Al Saud is considered the first Arab — and Muslim — in space, blasting off on June 17, 1985, for a seven-day mission.

On board the Nasa space shuttle Discovery, he oversaw the deployment of a satellite for the Arab Satellite Communications Organisation. He also conducted a number of other experiments, became the only person to have read the Holy Quran in outer space, and took photos of Saudi Arabia from up above.

File photo
File photo

2. Muhammed Faris

A Syrian pilot and air force officer, Muhammed Faris boarded the Soyuz TM-3 spacecraft on July 22, 1987, flying as a research cosmonaut.

He spent eight days in space, conducting several experiments with his crew. Many of these studies focused on medicine and materials processing.

3. Hazzaa AlMansoori

He is the first Emirati to have blazed off to the International Space Station (ISS), showing the UAE youth that, in the country, impossible is nothing.

AlMansoori, a former military fighter pilot, flew to the great beyond on September 25, 2019, and landed back on Earth on October 2, 2019. It was an eight-day mission packed not only with experiments but also lots of love from space to the UAE.

Photo Courtesy: MBRSC
Photo Courtesy: MBRSC

Besides carrying out studies on time perception in microgravity and osteology, he took a lot of beautiful photos from the orbiting laboratory — from the Liwa desert to the holy city of Makkah. He gave the UAE, particularly the youth, a glimpse into all things space and shared his experiences through social media and various interactions. He has become an icon for the country's space dreamers.

4. Sultan AlNeyadi

Now, Sultan AlNeyadi — a published IT expert with a doctorate in data security — is making history as he embarks on the longest Arab space mission in history. He will be at the ISS for 180 days to conduct 'new and exciting scientific research' in preparation for human exploration beyond low-Earth orbit and benefit life on Earth.

From spending Ramadan to demonstrating his martial arts skills in space, he will have an action-packed six-month mission. This officially starts when the Dragon Endeavour spacecraft he is travelling in with his Crew-6 mates docks at the ISS tomorrow morning.

After a successful liftoff from the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida, Crew-6 is now cruising its way through a 25-hour journey to the station.

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