UAE to announce two new astronauts in January 2021
Dubai - The UAE's first two Emirati astronauts were handpicked from over 4,000 applicants in 2018.
The names of two new astronauts from the second batch of the UAE Astronaut Programme will be announced in January 2021, officials have announced.
Senior officials from the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC) were joined by the UAE's first astronauts Hazzaa AlMansouri and Sultan Al Neyadi at a Press conference in Dubai on Tuesday to announce the timeline and application status of the second batch of the programme.
Salem Al Marri, head of the UAE Astronaut Programme, MBRSC, announced that the programme has received a total of 3,000 applicants, of which 30 per cent are Emirati women. "More women are being encouraged to become part of the programme," said Al Marri.
The UAE's first two Emirati astronauts were handpicked from over 4,000 applicants in 2018. The two men gave detailed descriptions about the rigours of the job. They said the highest level of skills, determination and the passion for becoming an ambassador to the UAE are needed to become the UAE's next astronaut. Both Al Neyadi and AlMansouri will be part of the selection committee that finalises the two new astronauts.
31 per cent of applicants are engineers
About 17 per cent of the prospective participants are pilots, and a majority, 31 per cent are engineers. Most applicants are from Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah and the average age of the applicants is 28. "The youngest applicant is 17 and the oldest is aged 60," said Al Marri.
Applications for the programme opened on December 6, 2019, and the present deadline for applications is March 31. However, Al Marri said it may be extended till May 5." A medical check-up and group assessment will be organised in June 2020, first interviews will be from August-September 2020, and final interviews are slated to take place in November 2020. "The final two astronauts will be announced by January 2021," said Al Marri.
A majority of the applicants are also employees of Etihad Airways, Dubai Police, and the UAE Armed Forces.
Encouraging applications from Emirati women
Once the two new astronauts are selected, the MBRSC core team will be raised to four cosmonauts and future space exploration programmes will be announced shortly after. When Al Marri was asked if choosing Emirati women for the programme is a priority, he replied: "I am a father to three girls, so I need to be careful with this answer."
He added: "The selection process and the training are both rigorous processes. However, as said by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, we believe Emirati women have the strong capability of being part of this programme."
The selection process for the second programme will be slightly different from the first one. "While some of them will be tested for short-term expeditions - seven to eight days- like the one Haazza experienced will go through a similar programme, the ones who will be selected for longer expeditions will undergo different procedures," said Al Marri. "The astronauts will conduct important scientific experiments and will provide new educational answers that will be necessary for the youth," explained Al Marri.
Space travel put UAE on the map
Hamad Al Shaibani, director-general of the MBRSC said: "We have new astronauts who will join the team and we would have a corps of four cosmonauts who are fully trained to take up space explorations. We call upon every UAE national - male and female - to apply." Officials also gave a recap of the immense benefits the UAE has experienced since AlMansouri's visit to space, and how it has been deeply embedded into the country's national identity.
Al Marri said: "Two years ago, we didn't have enough Arabic content related to space travel, and we had to refer back to ROSCOSMOS and Nasa for information. Today, we can speak from our viewpoint."
The UAE Astronaut Programme was launched in April 2017 by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid and His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces.
What does it take to become an Emirati astronaut?
Emirati astronauts Hazzaa AlMansouri and Sultan Al Neyadi spoke at length about the various challenges and trials involved in becoming a space explorer for the UAE. Here are a few:
Education and practical experience
"Passion is crucial and feeding it with education and experience is vital. STEM studies would put applicants at an advantage to be shortlisted for the programme," said Al Mansouri.
Great physical health
Neyadi said: "Applicants need to have great physical health, not just when the registration is open, but it has to be a lifestyle. You have to have self-control and be quick in making sound decisions and have the ability to adapt."
Language and culture
Astronauts must have excellent communication skills. Neyadi said: "English language is a basic requirement. One should also have the ability to learn other languages. We had to learn Russian from scratch to understand the technical aspects of training." Hazzaa added: "Astronauts must have the grit and willingness to co-exist with other cultures."
Patience and resistance
Neyadi said: "The training is hard. In parts of our training, we were eating biscuits and nuts to survive, and we had weekly tests."
Other skills are - Readiness, teamwork, the ability to acquire new skills, the will to be away from a supportive family, tolerant, and brave.
Second batch of UAE Astronaut Programme
>December 6, 2019 - Applications opened
>March 31 - Deadline for applications (likely to be extended till May 5)
>June - Medical check-up and group assessment
>August-September - First interviews to be held
>November - Final interviews
>January 2021 - Names of two astronauts to be announced
3,000 -Applications received
30% -Of the applicants are women
17% -Of applicants are pilots
31% -Are engineers
28 -Average age of applicants
60 -Age of the oldest applicant
17 -Age of the youngest applicant