UAE astronaut to make history again, become first Arab to do spacewalk

Sheikh Hamdan announced the milestone feat on Twitter, wishing AlNeyadi luck


A Staff Reporter

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Published: Thu 6 Apr 2023, 4:19 PM

Last updated: Thu 6 Apr 2023, 10:49 PM

The UAE is all set to take yet another historic step in space. Literally. Emirati astronaut Sultan AlNeyadi is preparing for the first spacewalk by an Arab astronaut on April 28.

Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai, made the announcement on Twitter on Thursday. This mission would make the UAE the 10th country to undertake Extravehicular Activity (EVA) outside the International Space Station (ISS).

“Good luck, Sultan,” Sheikh Hamdan tweeted.

AlNeyadi will be part of the 262nd spacewalk in support of assembly, maintenance, and upgrades on the space station.

This will be the fifth spacewalk out of the ISS this year. Nasa Flight Engineer Stephen Bowen and AlNeyadi will work together for the EVA that is expected to last more than six hours.

When astronauts go on spacewalks, they wear spacesuits that have oxygen and water. They put on their pressurised spacesuits several hours before a spacewalk.

They leave the spacecraft through a special door called an airlock. Safety tethers will be used — which are like ropes — to stay connected to the spacecraft. The tethers keep astronauts from floating away into space.

One of the primary objectives of AlNeyadi’s EVA will be to retrieve a crucial Radio Frequency Group (RFG) unit, which is an integral component of the ISS's S-Band communications string. This essential piece of communications equipment will be returned to Earth on a SpaceX flight.

In addition to the primary task, AlNeyadi and his team will be working on a series of preparatory tasks related to the solar array installation EVAs planned for later in the mission. The solar arrays play a pivotal role in powering the ISS, providing clean and renewable energy to support the various experiments, systems, and daily operations on board.

Trained and ready

Astronauts selected for spacewalks on the ISS undergo a rigorous selection process based on their skills, experience, and adaptability to the challenging environment of space. They must demonstrate exceptional proficiency in various fields, such as engineering, robotics, and life support systems, as well as excellent physical fitness and mental resilience.

Spacewalks on the ISS are crucial for maintaining, upgrading, and enhancing the orbiting laboratory's capabilities. They allow astronauts to perform tasks such as maintenance and repair of essential systems, installation of new technology and hardware, and assembly and construction of the ISS modules. They symbolise international cooperation, with astronauts from various countries collaborating and promoting the sharing of knowledge and resources.

Given the high risk associated with spacewalks, only select astronauts who are qualified get the chance to perform the critical task. The EVA process is not just physically challenging due to the pressurised resistance of the suit, it is also mentally demanding – astronauts have to focus on the work they are doing, their safety, a vast number of potential tools as well as interact with the crew and team at mission control.

AlNeyadi trained for more than 55 hours at Nasa’s Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory (NBL) at the Johnson Space Centre in Houston, Texas, in preparation for spacewalks.

During his time at the NBL – which holds 6.2 million gallons of water – AlNeyadi underwent nine runs of six hours each, training underwater simulating spacewalks utilising the full mock-up of the ISS.

Calling it “another great leap” for the UAE National Space Programme, Salem Humaid AlMarri, director-general of the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre, tweeted: “We have been preparing for this mission for three years. Sultan has already undergone training at the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory (NBL), and he is fully ready to complete it alongside his crewmate astronaut Stephen Bowen.”

One month in space

The Emirati astronaut has been aboard the floating ISS for over a month now. He launched with his Crew-6 team members on March 2 at 9.34am UAE time. The crew docked with the ISS after a 25-hour flight.

AlNeyadi recently received Nasa’s golden astronaut pin, signaling his move to ‘elite astronaut ranks'.

The Emirati astronaut officially commenced Expedition 69 along with his crewmates, following the recent undocking of the Soyuz MS-22 spacecraft.

Human research activities have dominated the crew’s schedule on the ISS, which included ultrasound scans, vision checks, and hearing exams. AlNeyadi participated in various activities alongside his fellow crewmates. The astronauts aimed to gain insights into space-caused and Earth-bound heart conditions, with Bowen attaching electrodes to himself and marking veins for the Vascular Aging investigation. In another session, Bowen, Frank Rubio, and Dmitri Petelin performed eye checks on their crewmates, including AlNeyadi, using standard medical imaging gear found in an optometrist’s office on Earth.

AlNeyadi focused on cargo work, offloading some of the 2,800kg of new science experiments, crew supplies, and station hardware delivered by the SpaceX Dragon resupply ship.

The Emirati will be involved in community outreach programmes, including live calls and ham radio interactions, in addition to maintenance tasks on board the ISS.


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