From UAE astronaut to youth minister: Sheikh Mohammed announces new role for nation's hero

He has brought the name of UAE to greater heights – figuratively and literally

by

Angel Tesorero

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Published: Sat 6 Jan 2024, 5:09 PM

Last updated: Sun 7 Jan 2024, 3:00 PM

It has been the mission of pioneering Emirati astronaut Sultan AlNeyadi to inspire the youth since the day he put on his spacesuit. And now, he will continue inspiring them and serving his homeland with his new role as Minister of Youth, while continuing carrying out his scientific and space-related duties.

He has brought the name of UAE to greater heights – figuratively and literally. He is the first Arab astronaut who walked in space and the first to complete a long-duration space mission. He conducted numerous experiments aboard the International Space Station (ISS) and showed life in space in a comprehensible way that ignited and satisfied curiosities of the youth in the region and beyond.

His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of UAE and Ruler of Dubai, described AlNeyadi on his appointment on Saturday as the one most keen to serve and advance the interests of the youth.

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The Dubai Ruler also expressed his sense of pride and directive in choosing AlNeyadi when he said: "We want our youth to have their feet rooted in their land – their history and their culture – and their heads in the sky."

“It is with these the UAE youth will be able to compete with nations, he noted, adding: "(Sultan) we are with you in this mission."

From his groundbreaking space mission to his role being a model for the youth, and space ambassador for all Arabs, we look back at the history and journey of the 42-year old Youth Minister who is also dubbed as ‘Sultan of Space.’

Boy from Al Ain

Al Neyadi’s curiosity for space started at a young age. He was born on May 23, 1981 in Umm Ghafa, which is 30 kilometres southeast of Al Ain, in Abu Dhabi. It was here where his passion for space exploration was ignited. He previously shared in an interview: “I grew up in a remote area in the city of Al Ain, the second largest city in the Capital. And I was lucky enough, in the 80s, we did not have much light pollution. I could see the Milky Way, the stars… And probably that was the ignition that started everything – thinking about going to space and travelling to other planets.”

Doctor in Information Technology

AlNeyadi was an excellent student who received his primary and secondary education in Al Ain. In college, he went abroad and earned a Bachelor of Science in Electronics and Communications Engineering from University of Brighton in UK. After graduation, he returned to the country to serve in the UAE Armed Forces. Al Neyadi’s father was a military man and it was him who inspired Al Neyadi to join the service.

AlNeyadi pursued graduate studies and went to Australia to receive his master’s degree in IT (information technology) from Griffith University in 2008. He worked as a network security engineer for the UAE Armed Forces, and visited more than 20 countries as part of his work.

In 2012, he returned to Australia for another five years, and earned a doctorate or PhD in Information Technology (Data Leakage Prevention). As an IT expert, he has published six research papers in international websites.

First Arab spacewalk

AlNeyadi made history twice for the Arab world – first as the pioneering Arab astronaut who went for a long-duration space mission and the first Arab space explorer who took a giant step for the Arab world when he completed a historic spacewalk outside of the ISS on April 28, 2023. These two accomplishments alone elevated UAE's status in space exploration.

Previously, Al Neyadi was the back-up for Hazzaa Al Mansoori, who was the first Emirati astronaut who went to the ISS in September 2019. The duo were selected among more than 4,000 candidates for the UAE Astronaut Programme that was launched in 2017.

AlNeyadi and his Crew-6 mates arrived at the orbiting space laboratory on March 3, 2023, and lived there for six months doing numerous scientific experiments in collaboration with UAE universities and international space agencies.

Social media influencer

AlNeyadi proved his mettle not only as an astronaut but also as a social media influencer. He has more than 627,000 followers on Instagram and 127,000+ followers on micro-blogging site X.

While onboard the ISS, he shared vivid insights into his life in space – from eating honey that came all the way from Al Khawaneej in Dubai, and was shipped to the space laboratory orbiting the Earth at an altitude of 400km, to being wrapped in a sleeping bag attached on the wall while wearing apparatuses used to monitor and experiment on the sleeping patterns of astronauts

He also grew food in space, recycled water, got a haircut in space, showed how astronauts brush and washed their hair in space. He also demonstrated his Jiu-Jitsu skills and showed his consistent physical regimen in space.

All his experiments on human physiology, space biomanufacturing and other technical studies were shared on social media and broken down into digestible information for this intended young audience.

Space photographer

Colleagues of AlNeyadi on the ISS called him a veritable space photographer. He said there are three things to keep in mind while taking photos and videos of Earth from space and these are planning, patience, and technique.

Astronauts like AlNeyadi were given training on various camera equipment. But to take great pictures from an orbiting space laboratory that goes around the world every 90 minutes, you need to have proper planning, patience, and technique to make it easier to take pictures of specific locations on Earth, AlNeyadi previously explained.

Call to action

AlNeyadi used his skills in photography and influence on social to call for environmental action.

In April last year, during Earth Day, he posted: “From space we see our beautiful Earth and the interconnectedness of water bodies, mountains, forests, deserts and more. These views remind us of our collective duty to protect our home. It is up to each and every one of us to take positive climate action. Everyday is #EarthDay.”

Man of peace

AlNeyadi is also a man of peace. In November last year, he posted on Instagram striking photos of the Gaza Strip that were taken few months before war escalated. He said “(the) place is experiencing unspeakable pain and destruction.”

He made a call for peace and noted “there are no real borders separating countries and cultures” when you look at Earth from space.

With a white heart emoji, he captioned the photos: “Lines on the map are man-made, but humanity transcends borders. We humans drew borders, and we have the power to blur them. A few months ago, I captured this photo of the Gaza strip, a place that is experiencing unspeakable pain and destruction. The footage on the ground is devastating. Wishing safety and peace to all.”

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