UAE: Meet the expat preparing to take off on Blue Origin’s spaceflight

Hamish Harding talks about his training, his bucket list and how the private sector is changing the space industry


Nandini Sircar

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Hamish Harding. — Supplied photo
Hamish Harding. — Supplied photo

Published: Tue 31 May 2022, 11:19 PM

Last updated: Tue 31 May 2022, 11:52 PM

Blue Origin’s fifth human spaceflight carrying UAE expat Hamish Harding on is now scheduled to take off in June.

Speaking to Khaleej Times, the British expat in Dubai, Hamish Harding, opened up about his training ahead of the suborbital flight, his bucket list, how the private sector is changing the space industry and how he had to lose eight kilos to be on the aerospace company’s upcoming space tourism flight.

UAE expat for 14 years, Hamish Harding will be one of the six people on a brief trip to the high frontier that was originally supposed to take off on May 20. He explained how NS-21 will take him 106km above the ground as he prepares to blaze new trails. He underlined: “The last flight I went on, a couple weeks ago was 30 parabolas. They fly these flight paths — amazing parabolas and it gives you Zero G inside the cabin of the aircraft. One gets 25 seconds per parabola of flying around weightless. So, that was good practice. Also, I did have to lose some weight — not because I was overweight, but the issue was, I was the last astronaut on, out of the six and so there was a capsule limit.


“If I was going to get on board, I had to meet the remaining weight in the capsule. So, you get a choice. If you go to space, you lose the weight, or you don't go to space. So, you soon diet effectively. So, I lost eight kilos in four weeks. We had a wonderful dietitian in the US who made sure my diet was very strictly controlled. In summary, it was a zero carb, zero dairy, only light protein diet,” added the 50-year-old man who is the chairman of Action Aviation, which deals in buying and selling business jets.

Zero gravity training

Harding has undergone training in the zero gravity Boeing aircraft, Boeing 727, by the Zero-G Corporation which is said to be an efficient aircraft for simulating Zero G.

While he has done a fair bit of training, the mission had to be delayed because of a technical fault that was announced by Blue Origin. He added: “The obvious one was that we did hit a technical problem. I’m an aviation guy and we have a saying in aviation called “AOG” – when an aircraft has an issue, it’s aircraft on the ground and you can't go flying. So, I invented a new term; “ROG,” rocket on the ground.”

“There was a minor malfunction but once you discover it, you must get it fixed. If it had happened in the actual mission, it wouldn't have caused a problem. It was a backup to the backup. But once you find it on the ground, you obviously have to fix it. They found it at L minus 3 which is launch minus three days, so we finished our training up to L minus 3 and we're going to go back and resume from L minus 2 onwards and go back to full launch once we have the final date. So, we are now looking through a slight postponement into June.”

In 2021, Harding dived the Challenger Deep in the Mariana Trench, the deepest point in the world, with Victor Vescovo in a two-person submarine.

Dream big

Shedding light on how he perceives these hair-raising stunts to be completely normal and encourages his children to go down that route, he added: “If somebody says would you like to go the bottom area of the trench, I typically say yes. I don't know why more people don't say yes to things. The advice I give to young people — my own children — is to try and say yes to opportunities whenever they turn up and figure out later how you’re going to do it. But just make sure you don't miss an opportunity either.”

His family is not unknown to achieving world records. His younger son bagged a world record as the youngest person ever to reach the South Pole while he was aged 12.

“We haven’t even been to the North Pole yet and that is a very important place to go to. I’ve quite a few more things on the sort-of adrenaline junkie list. It’s because I am an adrenaline junkie, I love skydiving, all kinds of action sports. I love downhill skiing — that is just a passion I can do with my two sons, who are also equally thrilled about this sort of thing. We’re also climbing Kilimanjaro as a family, with about 20 families and friends in July. So, that would be an interesting little adventure.”

He also plans to take a few souvenirs to space so he can gift them to his loved ones on his return.

What’s on his bucket list?

“The next thing Blue Origin is working on after New Shepard is a space station — one of the replacement space stations for the ISS that will be retired in the next few years. They have a project called Orbital Reef where their New Glenn rocket will assemble that at an orbital level and take people to the space station for weeks at a time. Obviously, that's on my bucket list when it's created.”

Highlighting on how the UAE could be a launch site for space missions, Harding added: “The UAE Government’s push for space is extremely welcome. The UAE Government is the one that gets things done more quickly. Typically, government doesn't do things very fast. It takes years and years, and they don't do it very well at the end. Luckily, we're in a country with a government that actually gets things done. The (UAE) government can get people into space in partnership with the private sector.

“I think the UAE should partner with Blue Origin. I’ve been involved in Blue Origin for a while and it's an incredibly effective company. They're just so laser-focused on the success of mass market space. I think there should be a second Blue Origin launch site. Today, the New Shepard rocket openly launches from the Texas desert, but we have a bit of desert in the UAE. I think we should offer an area of desert to Blue Origin to be a second launch site from this side of the world.”

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