The UAE’s first two astronauts have told university students to be ready for upcoming opportunities as the country’s space sector undergoes rapid growth.
Hazza Al Mansouri, the first Emirati man to go to space, and Sultan Al Neyadi also shared their experiences of becoming part of the nation’s astronaut corps.
The UAE propelled itself into the space sector in recent years and now boasts a successful Mars programme, with its Hope probe currently orbiting the Red Planet. Other Emirati space endeavours include an upcoming lunar landing attempt, more satellite development and an outer space simulation centre.
On Sunday, Maj Al Mansouri and Mr Al Neyadi spoke virtually to students of the Higher Colleges of Technology, from Nasa’s Johnson Space Centre in Houston, where they are training for long-haul space missions.
Maj Al Mansouri told them to “be ready” for opportunities to work in the field with many more expected in future.
“We’ve achieved a lot in the UAE in just 50 years. We’ve sent an astronaut to space, built our own satellites and sent a probe to another planet,” he said.
“We tell the world we are a nation with a lot of ambitions and a lot of capabilities. Work hard to achieve your dreams and be ready for opportunities.”
The UAE sent its first satellite, DubaiSat-1, into space in 2009 and sent the first Emirati into space 10 years later.
Maj Al Mansouri and Mr Al Neyadi spoke about their childhood dream of becoming astronauts but not having access to a programme that paved the way to that profession.
Instead, Maj Al Mansouri became a fighting jet pilot and Mr Al Neyadi an IT professional.
Their dreams became reality in 2017, when the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre launched the UAE Astronaut Programme.
“I applied with no hesitation,” Mr Al Neyadi said. “Then, we progressed through a very tough selection process – medical, psychological and physical tests – they wanted the best person, as it was a big responsibility to carry.”
Maj Al Mansouri said the path “will not be easy” and the sector is now very competitive, with many Emiratis are aspiring to be the next person to carry the UAE flag into space.
More than 4,300 Emiratis applied to become part of the astronaut corps last year.
“You have to be ready because, if you’re not, there will be other people who will grab that opportunity to achieve something amazing,” Maj Al Mansouri said.
“As an astronaut, you have to have a lot of skills. You will be the plumber to fix any broken items on the space station, you have to be a scientist, a technician, an engineer and a test subject.”
The booming space sector has also opened doors for engineers and scientists, not just aspiring astronauts.
The UAE’s Mars mission set a career path for propulsion, spacecraft, software and other engineers, as well as space scientists.
Emiratis are now capable of building satellites in-house and they are developing the Arab world’s first lunar rover, called Rashid.
With more space missions in the pipeline, mostly Emiratis are expected to benefit from the jobs created due to a strong focus on building capabilities of UAE nationals.
However, as the country looks to private space firms to set up base in the Emirates, opportunities may also open up for expatriates, including in space research and spacecraft design and manufacturing.