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Emirati astronaut Sultan Al Neyadi to make history as first Arab astronaut to spacewalk

On April 28th, Sultan Al Neyadi will embark on a spacewalk alongside his NASA colleague Stephen Bowen, with the mission expected to last approximately six and a half hours.

Emirati astronaut Sultan Al Neyadi to make history as first Arab astronaut to spacewalk
[Source photo: Chetan Jha/Fast Company Middle East]

Emirati astronaut Sultan Al Neyadi is about to create history by becoming the first Arab to perform a spacewalk later this month. He is currently at the International Space Station (ISS) as part of the longest Arab space mission, which lasts for six months, and will use the spacewalk to help with assembly, maintenance, and updates to the ISS.

According to state news agency WAM, Al Neyadi will venture out with NASA colleague Stephen Bowen on April 28 for about six and a half hours to replace the communication hardware installed on the exterior of the orbiting science laboratory.

Expressing his excitement on Twitter, he said, “Being chosen as the first Arab astronaut to undertake a spacewalk alongside NASA astronaut Stephen Bowen is a great honor and responsibility.” 

He added, “I am eagerly awaiting this historic moment, for which I have trained extensively at the Johnson Space Center. I am looking forward to represent my country and continue the exceptional journey started by generations of astronauts before me.”

The selection process for astronauts chosen to conduct spacewalks outside the International Space Station (ISS) is rigorous, requiring them to demonstrate exceptional proficiency in fields such as engineering, robotics, and life support systems. It is no small feat to qualify for such a mission, as only 259 astronauts have ever ventured outside the ISS since its launch in 1998, and there have been less than 700 spacewalks performed in total.

In preparation for his upcoming spacewalk, Al Neyadi has been undergoing training since 2018, including at NASA’s Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory (NBL) located at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, since 2020. During these training sessions, astronauts don a 127kg extravehicular suit, also known as an EVA, and practice underwater for several hours. At the NBL, Al Neyadi completed nine six-hour-long training sessions to simulate a spacewalk while using a full mock-up of the ISS.

During his spacewalk, Al Neyadi will wear his EVA suit while inside the space station, tethered to ensure his safety as he exits the airlock and begins his repair work. This will all take place while he floats in microgravity, requiring him to remain focused on his work and his safety throughout the entire process.

Al Neyadi, who launched into space from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, US, on March 2, is currently participating in a six-month mission to conduct various experiments in space, including human cell growth and managing combustible materials in microgravity. He is the second person from the UAE to ever fly to space.

Al Neyadi’s spacewalk will be live broadcasted on NASA and streamed on both NASA and the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Center’s social media channels.

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