May 21, 2024
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Tumultuous welcome awaits Sultan Al Neyadi’s return to the UAE

Emirati astronaut hero returns home on September 18, 2023, from the US

UAE astronaut Sultan Saif Al Neyadi, who has created history by undertaking the longest manned spaceflight by an Arab astronaut (six months) and becoming the first Arab astronaut to conduct a spacewalk (7hr,1mn), is all set to receive a grand hero’s welcome on September 18, 2023, when the 42-year-old Emirati returns to the UAE from NASA’s iconic Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, in a well-deserved homecoming.

Al Neyadi and his fellow Crew-6 astronauts returned to Earth on September 4, 2023, after spending six months (186 days) on the International Space Station (ISS) as it orbits 420km above the planet.

MBRSC graduate

Born on May 23, 1981, in Al Ain, Abu Dhabi emirate, Al Neyadi is a graduate of the UAE space programme – the first of its kind in the Aarab World – directed and managed by the Dubai-based Mohammed Bin Space Centre (MBRSC).

The MBRSC unveiled a new social media teaser campaign with the hashtag (#SultanHomecoming) on September 14, 2023, ahead of Al Neyadi’s return to the UAE later this week.

During their time on the ISS, Al Neyadi, NASA astronauts Stephen Bowen and Woody Hoburg, and Roscosmos cosmonaut Andrey Fedyaev conducted more than 200 scientific and research experiments.

The four astronauts representing the NASA-led Crew-6 (Expedition 69) mission, hailing from the UAE, the US, and Russia, reached familiar terra firma after their SpaceX Dragon Endeavour spacecraft splashed down in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Jacksonville, Florida, at 08:17am (Gulf Standard Time/EDT12:17am) on September 4, 2023.

2,976 orbits of Earth

The Crew-6 members travelled 127,138km (78,875,292 miles) during their 186-day-long mission and completed 2,976 orbits around Earth.

Sultan Al Neyadi and NASA astronaut Stephen Bowen begin their spacewalk on April 28, 2023. Image: NASA

The Crew-6 mission was the first spaceflight for Al Neyadi, Hoburg, and Fedyaev.

Al Neyadi follows Hazzaa Al Mansoori, the UAE’s first astronaut who also launched to the ISS in 2019 on an eight-day NASA mission.

Other active astronaut candidates currently in the UAE space programme include Nora Al Matrooshi and Mohammed Al Mulla, who are undergoing astronaut training with NASA in the US.

The UAE Astronaut Programme was initiated in April 2017 to develop an Emirati astronaut corps for scientific space exploration missions, creating a culture of scientific endeavour and motivating UAE youth to pursue space science and technology.

Historical feat

On April 28, 2023, Al Neyadi, who was a mission specialist on the Crew-6 team, conducted his first-ever spacewalk and, at the same time, became the first Arab astronaut to perform a spacewalk.

For his inaugural spacewalk, Al Neyadi paired with NASA astronaut Stephen Bowen to conduct maintenance work on the exterior of the ISS structure.

(L-R) Sultan Al Neyadi and Hazzaa Al Mansoori sign autographs at the Dubai Airshow 2021. Image: Arnold Pinto

The duo spent seven hours and one minute in the vacuum of space routing cables and installing insulation to prepare the ISS structure for a new set of roll-out solar arrays to be installed after their delivery on a SpaceX Dragon cargo mission.

The Emirati astronaut also participated in more than 200 scientific and research experiments for various research organisations back on Earth, including plant genetics, human life sciences, exploration technology, fluid dynamics, material science, and advanced technologies.

He also carried out periodic maintenance and other activities on the ISS.

Engaging audiences

During his 186-day stay onboard the ISS, and while living in microgravity 24/7, Al Neyadi also participated in 19 educational and community outreach events as part of the ‘A Call from Space’ series, in which over 10,500 people from all walks of life participated in and interacted with the Emirati astronaut through live video calls and ham radio sessions.

(L-R) Sultan Al Neyadi and Hazzaa Al Mansoori are the first astronauts to gradiate from the UAE space programme. Image: MBRSC
(L-R) Sultan Al Neyadi and Hazzaa Al Mansoori are the UAE’s first two astronauts. Image: MBRSC

The Crew-6 mission lifted off at 08:34am Gulf Standard Time (12:34am EST) on March 2, 2023, on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket inside a SpaceX Dragon spacecraft from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

About 25 hours later, their Dragon spacecraft docked at the ISS Harmony module’s space-facing port.

Critical manoeuvre

On May 6, 2023, the crew completed a port relocation manoeuvre to the Earth-facing port ahead of the arrival of a SpaceX Dragon cargo spacecraft carrying new solar arrays, science investigations, and supplies to the ISS.

During the six-month-long Crew-6 mission, Bowen conducted three spacewalks, joined by Hoburg for two and Al Neyadi for one, preparing the ISS for and installing two new IROSAs (International Space Station Roll-Out Solar Arrays) to augment power generation for the station.

Crew-6 team conducted hundreds of experiments and technology demonstrations, including assisting a student robotic challenge, studying plant genetic adaptations to space, and monitoring human health in microgravity to prepare for exploration beyond low-Earth orbit and to benefit life on Earth.

The Crew-6 mission was part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Programme. That mission ended successfully with the safe touchdown on earth by the Crew-6 members on September 4, 2023.

The Crew-6 mission has since been replaced by NASA’s Crew-7, which docked to the ISS on August 27, 2023, beginning another long-duration science expedition in low-Earth orbit.

6 ‘najmonauts’

In addition to Al Neyadi and Al Mansoori, other Arab astronauts – also known as ‘najmonauts’ (‘najm’ meaning ‘star’ in Arabic) – who have been to the ISS include Rayyanah Barnawi, the first female Arab astronaut, a stem cell researcher, and Ali Al Warni, a fighter pilot, both from Saudi Arabia, who headed to the ISS in May 2023 as part of a private space mission initiated by the American space company Axiom Space.

Official UAE 2 Mission insignia. Image: MBRSC

At one time in May 2023, there were three Arab astronauts onboard the ISS simultaneously – Al Neyadi, Barnawi and Al Warni.

Astronauts Prince Sultan Bin Salman Abdulaziz Al Suad from Saudi Arabia and Muhammed Faris from Syria also headed to the ISS in 1985 and 1987, respectively.

UAE Mission 2 patch

For his six-month-long mission to the ISS, Al Neyadi carried a special memento with him, a UAE Mission 2 patch.

Inspired by the UAE Mission 1 patch that Al Mansoori used for his mission to the ISS, the UAE Mission 2 patch features Al Neyadi attired in a SpaceX launch vehicle space suit and helmet, looking up to a popular caricature of late Sheikh Zayed (the first president of the UAE) against the backdrop of the orbiting ISS, Earth, and deep space.

The logo design signifies Al Neyadi’s mission to further humanity’s space exploration ambitions and the quest to improve life on a fast-changing Earth.

Al Neyadi and two fellow Crew-6 members participated in their first post-mission news conference at Johnson Space Center on September 12, 2023, following their return to Earth.

Al Neyadi has six children; what a homecoming that will be. He is an avid practitioner of Brazilian jiu-jitsu.

Featured image: UAE astronaut Sultan Saif Al Neyadi inside the Kibo laboratory module during his first week aboard the International Space Station on March 4, 2023. Image: NASA

Last Updated on 3 months by Arnold Pinto

    Arnold Pinto

    Arnold Pinto

    Arnold Pinto is an award-winning journalist with wide-ranging Middle East and Asia experience in the tech, aerospace, defence, luxury watchmaking, business, automotive, and fashion verticals. He is passionate about conserving endangered native wildlife globally. Arnold enjoys 4x4 off-roading, camping and exploring global destinations off the beaten track.
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