Just one month after making history as the first Emirati astronauts, Sultan Saif Al Neyadi and Hazza Al Mansouri have began their training at the Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Centre in Russia. Upon completion of the rigorous training, one of them will be selected to head to the International Space Station (ISS), a habitable artificial satellite orbiting the Earth, on April 5, 2019, by way of the Soyuz MS-12 spacecraft. The other will stay behind as back-up.
The hunt for the nation’s first astronauts started in December 2017, when the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Center’s (MBRSC) UAE Astronaut Programme was initially announced. The two were chosen from 4,022 applicants after a rigorous six-stage vetting procedure. Ahead of their interstellar travels, the two astronauts, who both hail from Abu Dhabi, had to complete stages of intense medical and psychological tests in addition to a series of personal interviews in cooperation with NASA and advanced medical tests by Russian Space Agency, Roscosmos. Al Mansouri is a military pilot with 14 years of military aviation experience, meanwhile Al Neyadi has a PhD in Data Leakage Prevention Technology from Griffith University in Australia that he obtained in 2016.
HH Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed, the son of HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, shared an image of the two astronauts during training on Twitter. He wrote: “We are proud of you, and of the efforts of MBRSC to fly the UAE’s flag high in the sky. A new Emirati record will be set in space.”
The name of the two astronauts were revealed in a historic announcement last month. “Today, we have the only program in the region to launch a probe to Mars,” wrote His Highness Sheikh Mohammed in a statement on Twitter. “We have capabilities to manufacture satellites, we have Emirati astronauts, and we have invested AED 20 billion to the space sector. Most importantly, we have a nation for whom the sky is the limit. Arabs can achieve anything under the right circumstances.”