Nora Al Matrooshi.
Gulf Today, Staff Reporter
In a new step that translates to the UAE's relentless pursuit towards global leadership in the field of space exploration, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai announced the names of the two new Emirati astronauts who will form the second batch of the UAE Astronaut Programme, and further revealed that it includes the first female Arab astronaut.
The new batch of astronauts will continue the scientific march that the UAE launched years ago with the aim of strengthening the space sector and developing a national team of astronauts capable of achieving the country’s aspirations in scientific exploration and participating in manned space exploration.
His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum said: "Today we announce two new Emirati astronauts, among them the first female Arab astronaut - Nora AlMatrooshi and Mohammed AMulla. They were selected from more than 4,000 applicants and their training will soon begin for international space flights. We congratulate the country on them. We congratulate them and count on them to raise the name of the UAE ever higher in space.”
An integrated team
The two new astronauts join astronauts Hazzaa AlMansoori and Sultan AlNeyadi to form a team of four under the UAE Astronaut Programme, serving the strategy of the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre base on achieving the vision of the wise leadership of the UAE and make it one of the leading nations in the field through the National Space Programme.
First female Arab astronaut, Nora AlMatrooshi
The second batch of the UAE Astronaut Programme includes the first Arab astronaut, Nora AlMatrooshi, who obtained a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering from the UAE University in 2015 and has years of experience in the field of engineering. AlMatrooshi excelled in the fields of engineering and mathematics during her academic years, placing first in the UAE for the 2011 International Mathematical Olympiad and representing the UAE in the Youth Conference at the United Nations in the summer of 2018 and winter of 2019.
Astronaut Mohammed AlMulla
The other astronaut in the second batch of the UAE Astronaut Programme is Mohammed AlMulla, who at the age of 19 obtained a commercial pilot’s license from the Australian Civil Aviation Authority to become the youngest pilot in Dubai Police. He then set another record, becoming the youngest trainer in the same organisation at 28 years, after getting his pilot trainer license from GCAA. While pursuing his career he obtained a bachelor’s degree in law and economics in 2015 and an Executive Master of Public Administration from the Mohammed Bin Rashid School of Government in 2021.
AlMulla is currently the Head of Training Department of the Air Wing Centre at Dubai Police. He has received the Bravery Medal from His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum and the Commander in Chief Award for the Best Officer in a Specialised Field, in addition to the Dubai Police Global Excellence Award.
The future missions for Emirati Astronauts will provide the scientific and global community with new scientific knowledge and will support the advancement of the space industry in the Arab world and contribute to making a better future for humanity.
An outstanding example from the Arab World
The steps the UAE has taken in preparing astronauts, who exhibit the highest records in fields such as technology, science and math and sending them to space is in fact an invitation for the Arab youth to dream big and follow suit. The UAE today has carved a strong name for itself in the Arab space sector, capitalizing on the impressive achievements so far such as the success of the Hope Probe, the first Arab mission to Mars.
Towards the next 50 years
The announcement of the second batch of astronauts is a testimony of the progressive vision of the leadership towards building a knowledge-based economy in a smart community founded by the pillars of technological innovation and scientific research. This defines the journey towards UAE Centennial 2071.
The national space sector recorded investments of more than AED22 billion over the past few years with the selection of astronauts to empower national cadres being an integral project leading this sector.
Building Emirati capabilities
H.E. 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.”
He added: “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% 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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