'First for Arab world, but not last': UAE astronaut completes historic spacewalk; as it happened

Sultan of Space takes a giant leap for the Emirates and the Arab world

By Angel Tesorero, Nandini Sircar, Kirstin Bernabe, Anu Cinubal

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Published: Fri 28 Apr 2023, 4:30 PM

Last updated: Sat 29 Apr 2023, 1:22 AM

Proudly wearing the UAE flag on his sleeve, Sultan AlNeyadi took a giant leap for the Arab world. On Friday, he made history as the first Arab astronaut to do a spacewalk.

This was a mission Sultan of Space had long prepared for, but more than anything, it was a big dream he had long hoped to turn into reality.

He floated in space for around seven hours as he finished some tasks only astronauts — who had trained and worked hard for years — can do.

Khaleej Times brings you a blow-by-blow account of this historic moment. Here are the real-time updates:

12.16am: Sultan thanks all

Emirati astronaut Sultan AlNeyadi said the first spacewalk he conducted on Friday was a great moment for the UAE. He thanked his spacewalk partner Steven Bowen, the UAE leaders, Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre and Nasa after the successful completion of the walk. The spacewalk concluded at 12.12am (UAE time) lasted for 7 hours and 1 minute.

“Thank you Steve. It’s a great moment for the UAE. I would like to thank the leadership of the UAE and also the USA. Also thank you to MBRSC and NASA for believing in us and for giving us this opportunity. It is the first in the Arab world but definitely won’t be the last. We have astronauts training now to undergo missions to the ISS, for the Moon and the Mars. I would like to thank everybody for this moment,” he said.

11.55: UAE astronaut completes spacewalk

Emirati astronaut Sultan AlNeyadi completed a successful spacewalk as he returned to the International Space Station minutes ago.

Salem Humaid Al Marri, Director General of the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Center congratulated the success of the mission and the completion of the first Arab mission to walk in space.

11.48pm: AlNeyadi returns to Quest Airlock

Emirati astronaut Sultan AlNeyadi returned to the Quest Airlock after completing the clean-up portion of today's spacewalk. Meanwhile Steven Bowen is preparing to ingress.

11.22pm: Historic week for UAE’s space sector, says Sheikh Mohamed

The President, His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, said this was a historic week for the UAE’s space sector.

In a tweet, Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed said: “With this week’s new discoveries by the Hope probe, the achievements of the Rashid rover mission, and Sultan Al Neyadi’s first ever spacewalk by an Arab astronaut, the UAE continues to make a meaningful contribution to space exploration and advancements in science.”

11.11pm: RFG unit to remain installed

The radio frequency RFG unit will remain installed on the ISS due to difficulties with its removal.

Earlier, the astronauts tried troubleshooting the RFG unit as they looked to remove it for refurbishment.

10.19pm: ISS flies over Japan

ISS is flying over Japan now, as Emirati astronaut Sultan AlNeyadi and his partner Bowen completed more than four hours of spacewalk.

The astronauts are troubleshooting the RFG unit as they look to remove this piece of hardware for refurbishment

ISS is also visible from the UAE. It is extremely bright and appears as a moving star in the sky. Usually, it can be seen every day during dawn or dusk time.

9.33pm: Historic milestone, says Sheikh Hamdan

Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of the UAE and Chairman of The Executive Council, wished a successful mission for Sultan AlNeyadi. The UAE's space program has achieved a new historic milestone with @astro_alneyadi becoming the first Arab to perform a spacewalk. We extend our congratulations to the UAE's leadership, its people, and the entire region for this remarkable accomplishment. We take great pride in this achievement and celebrate this momentous occasion. We also wish @astro_alneyadi a safe and successful mission.

9.14pm: 'We're proud of you', says Sheikh Mohammed

His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, praised Sultan AlNeyadi's achievement on Friday. He tweeted: "After 3 years of intensive training, today we saw Sultan AlNeyadi on the first mission to walk in outer space, carrying out missions to install new parts and carry out maintenance on the International Space Station.

He is the first Emirati, the first Arab, the first Muslim, to walk in outer space. We are proud of that.

They say that two-thirds of the stars in the sky bear Arabic names. Arabs are capable. Arabs are coming. Arabs are creative if we decide to focus on science and invest in youth. and stay away from differences."

8.42pm: Clam shell

Sultan uses a pair of scissors, cutting near the clam shell.

Clam shell is on the RFG antenna which will be taken inside the ISS, then sent to Earth for refurbishment and eventually reinstated to space.

7.58pm: Next up

Sultan's helmet lights could be a bit wobbly but no action is required at his end.

The next task for the astronauts is to retrieve the RFG (radio frequency group) — a piece of equipment that will be returned to Earth on the next SpaceX flight.

7.38pm: Working in pairs

Most spacewalks are performed in pairs. One astronaut is the lead spacewalker, responsible for keeping track of the pacing, safety and completion of the entire spacewalk.

The first and only time three astronauts ventured out in space at the same time was in May 1996, during US Endeavour's maiden flight.

In the picture above we can see AlNeyadi (right, with UAE flag on his left sleeve) and Bowen on his left.

7.25pm: Another view from Sultan's helmet camera

It's truly an exhilarating and unique experience out there in space, with the 'only thing between you and the Earth is a visor', as noted by Hazzaa AlMansoori in an earlier report by Khaleej Times.

7.17pm: Glove checks

Throughout the spacewalk activity, astronauts do glove and helmet checks about every 90 minutes — to make sure there is no water inside their helmets or tears in the gloves.

Why is this important? The thing is, not everything on the ISS' exterior is completely smooth. There are potential hazards to the astronauts' gloves, especially since the spacewalkers move around the station with their hands, using carefully placed handrails.

Because of this, astronauts perform regular glove inspections throughout each spacewalk, according to Nasa. The ground teams will also monitor the astronauts’ oxygen level, water for cooling, battery power and carbon dioxide removal.

7.02pm: Look! It's getting brighter (and hotter)

Here's a look at the second orbital sunrise on the ISS during Expedition 69 spacewalk:

The temperature will hit as high as 121 degrees Celsius in the sunlight — which is almost three times the temperature during summer in the UAE.

6.57pm: Sun rising (again) soon

The station is now flying the North Pacific Ocean — and soon, the sun will be up again.

Remember, there are 16 sunrises and 16 sunsets in space within 24 hours. Sultan AlNeyadi once talked about this here.

6.53pm: Freezing temperatures up there

Spacewalking astronauts AlNeyadi and Bowen are now working in the dark, with lights coming only from their helmets. Temperature? It's freezing cold up there — it has now dropped to -121 degrees Celsius!

Don't worry, though, their spacesuits are designed like a miniature spaceship (shaped like a human body), protecting them from the hazards in space.

6.41pm: Let's talk about the suit

AlNeyadi's suit for the spacewalk is actually 16 layers thick! It has a life support system — complete with a water tank, a radio and a cooling garment — plus the gloves have heaters.

Here's a breakdown of its key components:

6.30pm: First-ever spacewalk

Russian cosmonaut Alexei Leonov was the first human to ‘walk in space’ on March 18, 1965. Here he is:

Leonov, who trained with compatriot Yuri Gagarin (the first human to travel into space), stayed outside his craft for only a little over 12 minutes. Read more about spacewalk history here.

6.12pm: UAE flag in space!

Here's a view of the UAE flag outside of the orbiting International Space Station — a first for the Emirates:

AlNeyadi, together with Hazzaa AlMansoori, trained at Nasa's Johnson Space Centre’s Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory (NBL) in Houston for months to get familiar with microgravity and execute this historic spacewalk — the first for the Arab world.

6.08pm: 'Surgeon's hand'

As the two astronauts move to relocate an Articulating Portable Foot Restraint (APFR) after fixing cables, Nasa team is heard praising Sultan for his good work so far.

"He has a surgeon's hand," the team quipped.

He responds: "Thank you!"

5.55pm: Sultan's view of Earth right now!

Astronauts have said repeatedly: The sight of Earth from space is breathtaking. Now here's a glimpse from Sultan AlNeyadi's own helmet. This is how he sees the Earth right now:

The ISS is currently hovering above the South Atlantic Ocean.

5.53pm: Thermal cover closed

Here's the Emirati astronaut confirming that the cover is closed:

5.49pm: Sultan at work

Sultan works on closing the thermal cover.

He gets extra time to manoeuvre outside — in the vacuum of space — as it's his first time to do a spacewalk.

5.45pm: Nasa congratulates the UAE

As Sultan AlNeyadi steps out of the ISS, Nasa team says:

"Congratulations to the UAE for having its flag outside the International Space Station for the first time."

5.39pm: Giant step for the Arab world

Wearing a suit with white stripes, Sultan Al Neyadi starts his 6.5-hour spacewalk in a historic feat.

5.34pm: Jet pack check

The ground control team at Nasa's Johnson Centre checks if the spacewalking astronauts have secured the strap of SAFER (Simplified Aid For EVA Rescue), a backpack system (jet pack) worn during spacewalks, to be used only in case of emergency.

5.27pm: 15 minutes into spacewalk

Bowen instals the GoPro outside the ISS; AlNeyadi is handing him the tools to be used during the spacewalk:

5.25pm: Sun is up

The ISS orbits the Earth once every 90 minutes, this means AlNeyadi and Bowen will get to experience a sunrise and a sunset every 45 minutes.

5.20pm: Sultan handing tools

Sultan AlNeyadi, who is yet to step out of the ISS, is currently handing tools to Steve Bowen:

5.12pm: First spacewalker is out

Lead spacewalker Steve Bowen is the first to step out of the ISS. He is wearing a suit with red stripes. Sultan AlNeyadi will follow in a few.

5.10pm: Hatch now open

The hatch of the ISS is now open — and in 5 minutes, the astronauts will be stepping out for their spacewalk.

Flight engineer Woody Hoburg says: “Sultan congratulations, you are creating history today”

5.02pm: Did you know?

The longest spacewalk was done in 2001 and lasted 8 hours and 56 minutes. The shortest one was all of 12 minutes in 2009.

All in all, there have been 260 spacewalks at the ISS so far:

Source: Nasa
Source: Nasa

4.53pm: Sultan trained for over 3 years for this epic moment

The chief of Dubai's Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC), Salem AlMarri, last night shared that he is "confident" that Sultan is ready for this mission. In fact, he had trained for three years for this moment, AlMarri said:

4.46pm: Everything looks good!

Leak checks done. Things continue to move smoothly so far as the two astronauts prepare for hatch opening and eventual egress.

Scot Stover, lead EVA flight director for the mission, says the team is "very excited for Sultan and our Emirati friends — giving them this opportunity for a great experience".

4.40pm: Meanwhile, on Earth, another astronaut is at work

UAE astronaut Hazzaa AlMansoori, the first Emirati who went to space in 2019, now serves as increment lead of Expedition 69. He is in Houston monitoring the mission from Nasa Johnson Space Centre.

The Emirati team at the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC) will also be very busy following all the action from the International Space Station. Here's an explainer on his role in this mission.

4.36pm: Teamwork!

Nasa flight engineers Frank Rubio and Woody Hoburg help out Sultan AlNeyadi (who is now suited up) at the ISS Quest Joint Airlock.

They have also checked the backpack system called SAFER (Simplified Aid For EVA Rescue) a self-contained, jet pack worn during spacewalks, to be used in case of emergency

4.31pm: Crew prepares for decompression

What does it mean?

The astronauts, Sultan Al Neyadi and his crewmate Stephen Bowel must spend over an hour breathing pure oxygen before going outside the pressurised module once they put on their spacesuits.

4.30pm: AlNeyadi all suited up

A few hours ago, the Sultan of Space tweeted a final countdown. He was dressed in his spacesuit, which bore the UAE flag on his arm.

Here he is, asking us all to wish them luck:


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