Training begins for Emirati astronauts selected to join NASA

Nora al-Matrooshi and Mohammed al-Mulla have made their first media appearance in the country to announce the start of their exercises before moving to Houston in December
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AFP/ GIUSEPPE CACACE  -   UAE astronaut Nora al-Matrooshi and Mohammad al-Mulla during a press conference in Dubai on 7 July 2021.

The Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre held a press conference on Wednesday to introduce the two astronauts selected to work with NASA as part of a joint strategic agreement between the United States and the United Arab Emirates to train Emirati astronauts. Nora al-Matrooshi and Mohammed al-Mulla, the selected professionals, have already begun testing at the UAE Space Centre and will move to the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Centre in Houston in December. The exercises they are undergoing will train them to participate in spacewalking missions and the International Station. Al-Matrooshi and Al-Mulla are also undergoing T-38 flight training, learning Russian, robot control and participating in land and water survival courses.

"The UAE Astronaut Programme translates our continued pursuit of space exploration and the conduct of manned missions, as it is part of our goal to develop the space sector in the UAE," explained Youssef Hamad al-Shaibani, director of the Space Centre.

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REUTERS/RULA ROUHANA - Nora al-Matrooshi, 28, a member of the UAE astronaut programme and the first Arab female astronaut, attends a press conference in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, 7 July 2021.

Al Shaibani also showed his commitment to "preparing a generation of Emirati engineers, experts and researchers, wishing the astronauts every success in all their future missions". Since Abu Dhabi developed its own space agency in 2014, the Arab country has made great achievements in this area. The UAE has become the fifth country in the world to reach Mars orbit and is currently working on a project to build a human settlement on the red planet by 2117.

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REUTERS/AHMED JADALLAH - A rendering of Mars and the Hope Probe is seen at the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre prior to its launch from Tanegashima Island in Japan, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates 19 July 2020.

Salem Al Marri, deputy director of the Centre, reiterated Al-Shaibani's words by stressing the need to encourage innovation among young people in the UAE and the Arab world in general.

This mission also marks a major milestone as Nora Al-Matrooshi has become the first Arab woman astronaut. "I am looking forward to joining NASA's Astronaut Programme by 2021, where I will meet professionals from different countries around the world, work together for the good of humanity and explore new horizons that no human being has reached before," said Al-Matrooshi. The astronaut studied engineering, excelling in mathematics. Until then she had worked in the oil and gas industry.

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AFP/ KARIM SAHIB - A man takes a photo of an illustration depicting an astronaut with the UAE national flag outside the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC) in Dubai.

His colleague Mohammed Al Mulla, on the other hand, expressed his "pride in representing the United Arab Emirates in its global efforts to explore space". He also announced his aspiration to be part of the next space mission "to enhance the country's achievements in space". Both Al-Matrooshi and Al-Mulla had to pass a tough and lengthy selection process involving 4,305 candidates, including 33% women. They also had to pass intelligence, personality and technical ability tests.

Al-Matrooshi and Al-Mulla will be part of a team with two other astronauts, including Hazza Al-Mansoori, the first Emirati to go into space in 2020 for a mission to the International Space Station.