UAE may soon have its first female Emirati astronaut

Picture retrieved from
Picture retrieved from

Dubai - Out of the total 4,300 applicants for the UAE Astronaut Programme, 1,400 are Emirati women in this batch, that’s about 250 more than in 2018.

By Nandini Sircar

Published: Sat 20 Feb 2021, 4:23 PM

Last updated: Sat 20 Feb 2021, 4:38 PM

The Hope spacecraft entered the Martian orbit successfully on February 9. And soon, the UAE may add a new feather to its cap with the possible selection of the first female astronaut, as the country inches closer to announcing its next two astronauts.

Five women and nine men are vying for the coveted roles – in the race to the second batch of Mohamed Bin Rashid Space Centre’s (MBRSC) UAE Astronaut Programme for the future crewed space flights.

Out of the total 4,300 applicants for the UAE Astronaut Programme, 1,400 are Emirati women in this batch, that’s about 250 more than in 2018.

These two new astronauts will be recruited to UAE’s growing astronaut corps, which already includes Maj Hazza Al Mansouri and Dr Sultan Al Neyadi.

Speaking exclusively to Khaleej Times earlier, Salem Al Marri, head of the UAE Astronaut Programme, had affirmed that the next Emirati astronaut to head into space could very well be a woman.

He said: “Women bring something very different to the table and to the human space life and having a well-rounded programme definitely requires that we have diversity in gender. But our selection criterion is not based on gender; it’s based on quality and the best and brightest.”

He added: “What we had seen initially is that from 1,400 women applied, and we had some really great candidates. Some have doctoral degrees and are medical doctors. It’s not just about capability; it’s also about them being fit medically and psychologically. Those things are sometimes not in our hands.”

He simultaneously underlined the programme expectations for this year.

"We saw a bigger batch compared to last year and it’s indeed big for the UAE and it was a big thing last time. It will be a great opportunity to join Hazza and Sultan and be number 3 and 4 in the UAE’s astronaut list. We are looking at different skills this time. A well-rounded person who has many different skill sets is best suited for the role.

For its first batch of UAE astronauts, the MBRSC had shortlisted candidates in their mid-30s. But this time, they lowered the age limit.

“For this group, we had widened the age limit so that we could get greater number of younger candidates involved. Reason being, with the first group we wanted a lot of experienced people, someone who could bring to table something straightway. With this group we know they have a longer course training plan and we also have Hazza and Sultan to support them. Therefore, we looked at people who are 25 going forward" pointed out Al Marri.

Meanwhile, at the MBRSC, 42 per cent of the workforce consists of Emirati women. Their milestone projects consist of a high women employment rate, including 70 per cent in UAE’s Astronaut Programme and 34 per cent in the Hope Mars Mission.

Involved in the Emirates Mars Mission (EMM), the science team of the mission has 80 per cent female, who are analysing the incoming data that is being received from the Hope probe.

“As the data comes from the probe, all of the Emirati science team are the first ones to work on it and that’s exciting for all of us. It’s something we’ve been preparing to do,” contended Fatma Hussain Lootah, the instrument science team manager for the Mars mission.

Tracking history of women in space

Women have continuously ascended to historic new heights in space exploration, with the first woman to travel to space in 1963 and the first female space station commander in 2008.

More recently, the first all-female spacewalk in 2019, with two of Al Mansoori’s crewmates on the International Space Station (ISS), were Christina Koch and Jessica Meir.

Koch also set the record for the single longest spaceflight by a woman, after she spent 328 days on the ISS.

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