UAE selects first female Arab astronaut
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UAE selects first female Arab astronaut

UAE selects first female Arab astronaut

Nora AlMatrooshi and Mohammed Al Mulla are the two latest recruits of the UAE Astronaut Programme

UAE astronaut programme

Two new Emirati astronauts have been selected, among them the first-ever female Arab astronaut, who will comprise the second batch of the UAE Astronaut Programme.

“We announce two new Emirati astronauts, among them the first female Arab astronaut – Nora AlMatrooshi and Mohammed Al Mulla. They were selected from more than 4,000 applicants and their training will soon begin for international space flights,” said Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai.

AlMatrooshi and Al Mulla will join astronauts Hazzaa AlMansoori and Sultan AlNeyadi to form a team of four under the UAE Astronaut Programme.

AlMatrooshi obtained a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the UAE University in 2015 and has several years of experience in engineering. She placed first in the UAE for the 2011 International Mathematical Olympiad and represented the UAE in the Youth Conference at the United Nations in the summer of 2018 and winter of 2019.

Meanwhile, Al Mulla 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 set another record, becoming the youngest trainer in the same organisation at the age of 28, after getting his pilot trainer license from General Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA).

He is currently the Head of Training Department of the Air Wing Centre at Dubai Police. He has previously received the Bravery Medal from 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.

Training programme 

The two new recruits will also join the “2021 NASA Astronaut Candidate Class”, as part of a joint strategic agreement between the UAE and the US, to train at NASA’s Johnson Space Center.

They will be trained in human spaceflight, research and space flight control, conducting 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.

The astronauts will also 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.

AlMansoori’s was first Arab astronaut to visit the International Space Station when he undertook an eight-day mission from September 25- October 3 in 2020.

The UAE’s national space sector recorded investments of more than Dhs22bn over the past few years. 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).

Selection process

There were a total of 4,305 applicants for the second batch of the UAE Astronaut Programme. The applicants underwent several phases of evaluation. In the first phase, the list was filtered down to 2,099 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 Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre (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.

“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,” said Salem AlMarri, assistant director general for scientific and technical affairs and head of the UAE Astronaut Programme at MBRSC.

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. Fourteen candidates from the 30 were selected after passing the preliminary remote interviews of the final phase of evaluations.

The shortlisted candidates comprised of nine men and five women. The final evaluation stage of the 14 candidates was conducted by a committee consisting of specialists from MBRSC, including Emirati astronauts AlMansoori and  AlNeyadi along with NASA astronauts Jessica Meir and Anne McClain, who narrowed it down to four candidates.

The two candidates were then selected from the final four after undergoing rigorous tests for physical fitness, communication skills and teamwork.

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