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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 September 2018

Space Agency women's team reach for the stars ahead of Dubai's Gov Games, and beyond     

'By the end of this year, they will announce four astronauts and I am sure one them will be a woman, and that will be me,” said one team member – the women are also hoping to be selected for the UAE astronaut programme 

The UAE Space Agency's women's team, who will be taking part in the Gov Games, in training at Vogue fitness in Yas marina, Abu Dhabi. Vidhyaa / The National
The UAE Space Agency's women's team, who will be taking part in the Gov Games, in training at Vogue fitness in Yas marina, Abu Dhabi. Vidhyaa / The National

Many had climbed mountains before, participated in obstacle races, and received awards - but it wasn’t until they started training for the Gov Games that the seven women who will be representing the UAE Space Agency in Dubai next month felt closest to their dream of becoming future astronauts.

They are determined to win and will leave nothing to chance, they said. So they have been training vigorously every week, and have even changed their eating habits. Along the way, they have also bonded as a team more than ever before.

“We’ve been working together for around three years but for the first time we feel like one body,” said Shaikha Ml Maskari, 37, an Emirati and chief innovation officer at the agency, as well as a writer and media professional. “We started to understand what it means to have one breath – to inhale and exhale at the same time, get up and down together.”

It wasn’t easy in the beginning, but eventually they bonded. “In everyday life, each one of us performs for her own self, but during the government games we have to do it all together,” she said.

The group are well aware that to make it through the competition, it will require far more than physical fitness. The Games include mental as well as physical challenges, with some involving team members climbing on top of one another to jump over a wall, or insert bars weighing up to 80 kilograms into high-up holes, or grab a key to solve a puzzle.

“This has enabled us to develop skills that will qualify us to become astronauts, because becoming an astronaut is all about team work,” said Heyam Al Blooshi, a design engineer at the agency. The 29-year-old Emirati has applied, along with her peers, to join a batch of local astronauts that the agency will be selecting from thousands of hopefuls by mid-June.

The female UAE Space Agency team who competed in last month's Government Games. From left to right: Heyam Al Balooshi, Maha Al Ahbabi, Hoor Al Mazmi, Salama Al Mansoori, Sheikha Al Maskari and Mona Hajaj. Pawan Singh / The National
The female UAE Space Agency team who competed in last month's Government Games. From left to right: Heyam Al Balooshi, Maha Al Ahbabi, Hoor Al Mazmi, Salama Al Mansoori, Sheikha Al Maskari and Mona Hajaj. Pawan Singh / The National

“By the end of this year, they will announce four astronauts, and I am sure one them will be a woman, and that will be me,” she said.

As an adventure enthusiast and experienced hiker who loves a challenge, Miss Al Blooshi saw the government games as the perfect opportunity to build on her skills. “We heard about the games through the fitness group that we started on WhatsApp, so we decided to participate,” she said.

“And once we received an official email [from the organisers], we realised that [the Dh1 million] is not a prank, it is real” – the team who wins the finals on May 12 will receive a Dh1m cash prize to be divided between the team members.

“My height is my biggest strength, so they can use me in the human ladder to get through a big portion of the climb,” said Salama Al Mansoori, a human resources administrator. “But the challenge will be for them to pull me up to the other side, so I have to lose weight.”

The 31-year-old Emirati said she had barely before practiced any form of physical training before enrolling in the Gov Games, and she was the last member to join the team as she filled in for another who had to leave when the dates of the competition were changed from April to May.

“The training was very painful in the beginning, but once I passed through the pain stage on the first day, the second day I was determined to go fight with them.”

“[Salama] is adapting so fast. On the first day, the squats were very hard for her, but the second day she did it so quickly,” said her teammate, Maha Al Ahbabi, a space strategic planner.

“And we were shocked by Mona Hajaj’s fitness. She has so much stamina and she can do handstands,” said the 30-year-old Emirati.

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Read more:

Dubai Fitness Challenge a success as participants hail 'healthy month'

More than 4,000 Emiratis apply to become UAE's first astronaut

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Ms Hajaj, an executive secretary at the agency who has previously scaled Kilimanjaro, said she has never participated in such a wide-scale competition before. Yet she is determined to support the team until the end.

“It is something new in the UAE. I used to hear of Spartan races and so on, but Government employees having a special competition is very special in my opinion, and I am very happy to be part of it. I think I will do it every year,” said the 42-year-old, from Jordan.

“When [Mona] exercises she looks as if she is about to take her last breath, but she keeps going till the end,” said Ms Al Blooshi.

Also on the team, are Hoor al Mazmi, a space science engineer, and Sumaya Al Hajeri, head of space policy. The seven women will together be competing against 29 other teams for the women’s challenge on May 9 for the qualifying round. Six teams will then battle it out for the prize money on May 12.

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