A local newspaper has said when the Emirati astronaut Sultan Al Neyadi launched into space last month aboard the SpaceX rocket Falcon 9 with three crew members, on a six-month mission on the International Space Station, was a landmark moment for the UAE.
“His journey was watched widely not just by people in the Emirates, but across the Arab world,” The National said in an editorial on Monday.
In terms of national pride, the March expedition came after a mission by Al Neyadi’s fellow astronaut Hazza Al Mansouri, who, on an eight-day trip in 2019, became the first Emirati to travel to space. The two Emirati astronauts, having trained together for over three years, refer to each other as brothers.
This week, on April 28, Al Neyadi will attempt a space walk. If he succeeds, he will become the first Arab astronaut to step into the void. The endeavour will be live-streamed by Nasa and the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC).
The paper added, “Spacewalks are challenging and daunting – not least for it being carried out in a suit weighing 27kg and floating in microgravity. But there are other reasons this coming week could be historic.”
Since the launch last month, scientific experiments in space have already been underway, with more than 20 different experiments with UAE universities and international universities planned for the six-month ISS mission. But this week will be the busiest in terms of the scope of some of these experiments, laden as they are with complexities and with always the caveat of a reasonable chance of postponement in the interest of safety.
Before the spacewalk, a more technologically intricate manoeuvre is scheduled for tomorrow, with the attempted lunar landing of the UAE’s Rashid rover. A touchdown on the Moon’s surface is expected to take place at 8.40 pm on April 25. Even as this is a fragile operation, with no assured chance of success, it must be acknowledged that the UAE’s space programme – having reached this advanced point – has made great leaps.
As the Emirates, Lunar Mission manager Hamad Al Marzooqi said, “It’s a risky business, but again, it’s not the end. At MBRSC, we have plans for what’s next. If we can call it a trial, yes, maybe it’s a trial. But, again, we will have a second and third.” Of all the countries who’ve attempted the feat, only the US, the former Soviet Union and China have achieved soft landings on the lunar surface.”
The fact remains, whether or not this particular attempt at landing the rover on the moon succeeds, much will be learnt from the mission that will advance space research and inform future lunar expeditions.
“It’s a helpful reminder to bear in mind that when it comes to big long-term national projects such as space travel and space research, accomplishments can be immediate, as the UAE well knows. Equally, however, they can also take time and add up slowly – as the old adage goes, in the repeated tries it may take to succeed,” the Abu Dhbai-based daily concluded.