Video: Meet UAE's first woman astronaut


In a first for the UAE, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, took to twitter to announce the two new astronauts to represent the country, and the first female Emirati astronaut.

Four remaining candidates have been battling it out to become the UAE’s next astronauts, out of more than 4,000 applicants.

The lucky two announced were Nora Al Matrooshi, the UAE’s first female Arab astronaut and Mohammed Al Mulla.

His Highness confirmed their training will start soon, part of the NASA astronaut programme.

They will participate in scientific space exploration missions in partnership with international astronauts, and join Hazzaa Al Mansoori and Sultan Al Neyadi in representing the UAE and the country’s ongoing space programme.

Building Emirati capabilities Yousuf Hamad AlShaibani, Director General, MBRSC, said: "Today we continue on our journey to script a new scientific history for the Arab region in the field of space exploration, which was launched thanks to the vision of our wise leadership and guidance towards realising our dream of being at the forefront of the space sector. The UAE Astronaut Programme is central to achieving this ambitious vision, as it aims to build a knowledge-based economy for the youth of UAE that will be critical for advanced future projects. This will help us achieve the vision of our leadership that has taught us that nothing is impossible, and that the ambition of young Emiratis must go beyond the limits of space."

He added: "With the first batch of the UAE Astronaut Programme, we were able to catch the world's attention, by raising the UAE flag on the International Space Station (ISS). We still remember the pride that swept the country when the first Emirati astronaut took off to space. Today, we are moving towards achieving another momentous occasion by announcing the second batch of the UAE Astronaut Programme and will continue on our plans to enhance the capabilities of Emirati youth in the space sector."

The first female Arab astronaut Salem AlMarri, Assistant Director General for Scientific and Technical Affairs and Head of the UAE Astronaut Programme, MBRSC, said, "We are delighted to have Nora AlMatrooshi and Mohammed AlMulla join the UAE Astronaut Programme. The team at MBRSC has worked tirelessly after receiving applications to evaluate them according to specific criteria and standards, and then conducted successive evaluations to ensure the selection of the best candidates, until we reached this point to announce the new astronauts.

"We were excited and proud to see the interest and enthusiasm from Emirati youth when we opened the registration for the second batch of the UAE Astronaut Programme, which allows them to be part of a national programme that aims to represent the UAE in one of the most important technological and scientific fields that will shape the future of the world. Today, our Emirati team has grown with the addition of two new astronauts who will continue to create history with us.

"The second batch of the UAE Astronaut Programme is also distinguished by the presence of the first female Emirati and Arab astronaut. The UAE, which has always been a pioneer across different fields, has once again proven its resolve to work diligently for both its young men and women. Emirati women are more confident of their abilities and limitless capabilities, as ascertained by female candidates making up 33 percent of the applicants for the programme. Majority of the applicants also ranged between the ages of 24-36 years old, which reflects the ambition of Emirati youth and their love for making the impossible possible," AlMarri concluded.

Advanced training plan The two astronauts from the second batch of the UAE Astronaut Programme will also join the "2021 NASA Astronaut Candidate Class", as part of a joint strategic agreement between the UAE and the United States of America, to train them at NASA’s Johnson Space Center.

The two new astronauts will be trained in human spaceflight, research and space flight control, and will also be trained to carry out missions in low orbit, using the Human Exploration Research Analog, a unique three-story habitat designed to serve as an analog for isolation, confinement, and remote conditions in exploration scenarios.

Under the training programme, the astronauts will be trained to manage various missions on the International Space Station, including simulated spacewalks and long duration stay, along with training in major systems, robotics, extravehicular activity, T-38 jet courses, water and land survival, Russian language skills and theoretical training.

International standards of assessment 4,305 applicants had applied for the second batch of the UAE Astronaut Programme. The applicants underwent several phases of evaluation and qualification in accordance with international standards. In the first phase, the list was filtered down to 2099 applicants based on their age, educational background, and scientific research experience.

The applicants then underwent IQ, personality, and technical assessments, through which the best 1,000 candidates were selected. In phase two, after evaluating the top 1,000 candidates, the MBRSC evaluation committee selected 122 applicants, who were then interviewed virtually. Based on the interviews, the 122 candidates were further evaluated, bringing the shortlist down to 61 applicants.

For the third phase, the team at MBRSC conducted preliminary and advanced medical examinations on the shortlisted 61 candidates, which brought down the number of candidates to 30, who moved to the final phase. 14 candidates from the 30 were selected after passing the preliminary remote interviews of the final phase of evaluations. The shortlisted candidates comprised of 9 males and 5 females, with a variety of scientific and academic backgrounds, including 4 working in the aviation sector, 9 engineers, and a candidate specialising in metrology.

The final evaluation stage of the 14 candidates was conducted by a committee consisting of specialists from MBRSC, including Emirati astronauts Hazzaa AlMansoori and Sultan AlNeyadi along with NASA astronauts Jessica Meir and Anne McClain, who narrowed it down to 4 candidates. The two candidates were then selected from the final four after undergoing rigorous tests for physical fitness, communication skills and teamwork.

UAE Astronaut Programme The Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre opened registrations for the second batch of the UAE Astronaut Programme in December 2019, for all UAE Nationals who were 18 years old and above, proficient in Arabic and English, and university graduates. The programme is designed to prepare and train Emiratis to travel to space for various scientific missions.

Hazzaa AlMansoori and Sultan AlNeyadi were the astronauts selected in the first batch of the UAE Astronaut Programme. AlMansoori’s eight-day mission to the International Space Station, which took place from 25th September to 3rd October in 2020, saw 30 scientific experiments being conducted.

The UAE Astronaut Programme is one of the projects managed by the UAE’s National Space Programme and funded by the ICT Fund of the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA), which aims to support research and development in the ICT sector in the UAE and promote the country’s integration on the global stage.

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