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in Space / Features

UAE set to name its first four astronauts

Posted 8 January 2019 · Add Comment

The UAE is gearing up to put the first Emirati astronaut into space. Steve Nichols has been finding out more.

Earlier this year, the UAE signed an agreement with the Russian Federation to send the first UAE astronaut to the International Space Station (ISS).
In March, the UAE Space Agency signed a letter of intent with both Russia and Kazakhstan to cooperate in various fields of space exploration and to collaborate on future space projects.
The signing took place at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, where the UAE delegation also witnessed the successful launch of the Soyuz MS-08, a manned spacecraft carrying crew and equipment to the ISS.
A recruitment website set up by the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre says it expects to make an announcement as to the final four candidates chosen for the Emirati astronaut corps by the end of 2018.
In June it said the UAE astronaut programme had shortlisted 95 potential astronauts from more than 4,000 applicants. Seventy-five of the shortlist are men and 20 are women.
By the time the final announcement is made, the candidates will have undergone medicals and psychometric testing, as well as attending panel interviews.
The website encouraged interested applicants to “carry the pride of the nation as you make history and become the first UAE national to go to space”.
Once the astronaut corps has been selected, basic training will begin. This starts with a one-year module that provides an overview of the UAE space programme, and the foundation learning of disciplines, such as space engineering and scientific research.
As the basic training progresses, the astronauts will go on to learn about life aboard the ISS, which includes learning about procedures and systems, as well as the launch process.
The final components involve training for a spacewalk or extra vehicular activity (EVA) – which is conducted underwater – rendezvous and docking, and performance training. This is expected to continue until 2020.
Advanced training will then run for one to two years and covers disciplines crucial to day-to-day life on the space station. These include operations, maintenance, and payloads.
Specialist skills will also be learned during the course of the year that relate to robotics, EVA, navigation, medical and resources.
The training will also include mission-specific operations, where the astronauts will learn how to conduct different scientific experiments.
Mohammed Nasser Al Ahbabi, director general of the UAE Space Agency, said the agreement put the UAE “on the threshold of a new phase of its vision for the space sector”.
“A few months have passed since the launch of the UAE astronaut programme until we found ourselves today being able to choose the best candidates,” said Al Ahbabi. “This was achieved in a record time that was admired by the world.
“The UAE team of astronauts will play a major role in spreading the message of good, peace and tolerance borne by the UAE to the world, as well as scientific and research contributions through participation in various manned space missions and scientific experiments.”
There is some confusion over when the first Emirati will visit space. The astronaut training website suggests this won’t be until at least 2021. But a Roscosmos announcement said it could be as early as April 2019 – it is unlikely that the astronaut training could be completed that quickly.
The UAE Space Agency has also announced a paid internship programme with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) that will see a number of highly qualified UAE students work alongside students from the United States.
The NASA international internship programme provides an environment for US and non-US university undergraduate-level or graduate-level students to work collaboratively on NASA-relevant research with a mentor at the NASA – Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California.
The programme, which is open to UAE citizens and is being is fully funded by the space agency, offers 13 projects that students can choose from covering everything from microsatellites, orbital mechanics and biosensors to life-support systems.
The internships will run from January through to April 2019.
 

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