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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 16 December 2018

UAE bid to send first Emirati into space on track after rocket launch

Russia has launched its first manned flight to the International Space Station since an aborted mission in October

The Russian Soyuz rocket blasted off to the International Space Station on Monday, bolstering hopes that the first Emirati astronaut mission will take place as planned in 2019. EPA
The Russian Soyuz rocket blasted off to the International Space Station on Monday, bolstering hopes that the first Emirati astronaut mission will take place as planned in 2019. EPA

The UAE's historic maiden astronaut mission is back on track after Russia completed its first successful voyage to the International Space Station since an aborted flight in October.

A three man crew successfully blasted off from Baikonur in Kazakhstan heading for the International Space Station on Monday.

It lifted a cloud that has hung over the Russian space programme since another manned mission in October was aborted in mid-flight. Both astronauts survived unharmed after an emergency landing.

Russia’s space agency Roscosmos has signed a deal with the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre to fly the first UAE astronaut to the ISS in 2019.

The “textbook launch”, as described by Nasa, saw the Soyuz rocket lift-off with American, Russian and Canadian astronauts on board.

A bent sensor pin caused during assembly was later found to be responsible for the problems with the separation of booster rockets on the Soyuz.

Roscosmos has pledged that the Emirati launch will definitely take place next year, although it has warned it is likely to be later than the April date originally scheduled.

Sultan Al Neyadi and Hazza al Mansouri have been training in Russia ahead one of a journey to the International Space Station in April.
Sultan Al Neyadi and Hazza al Mansouri have been training in Russia ahead one of a journey to the International Space Station in April.

"The schedule has been somewhat altered due to the Soyuz accident,” the head of the agency, Dimitry Rogozin said, in a statement to the official news agency TASS.

“But I think we will fulfil our obligations concerning the flight of an UAE national in 2019.”

Officials in the UAE have already expressed confidence in the Soyuz spacecraft.

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Currently two astronauts are in training for the 10 day mission to the ISS, with the revised date still to be confirmed.

Sultan Saif Al Neyadi, who holds a doctorate in information technology, and Hazza Al Mansouri, a military pilot, were named in September, with one flying the mission and the other as back-up.

Dr Mohammed Al Ahbabi, the Director General of the UAE Space Agency has confirmed that they will be the first of many.

“The UAE has a long-term space exploration programme,” he told the Russian news agency Sputnik last month.

“We can train astronauts, and they will be sent to orbit annually. We plan to select two more astronauts in addition to the four astronauts that we have already selected, so that we have our own astronaut team, like major global space agencies have.”

After opening applications for the UAE space corps earlier this year, over 4,000 applications were received, which were eventually reduced to a short list of nine.

“Some of the people included in this list can be selected to take part in other space flights,” Dr Al Ahbabi said.

Russia is currently the only country capable of manned space flight to the ISS after the end of Nasa’s space shuttle programme and carries American astronauts and other nationalities to the station on scientific missions.

The US hopes to ends its dependency on Soyuz with its new Boeing Starliner capsule, which it hopes to have ready by next August.

Dr Al Ahbabi said that the UAE’s plans for longer term space flight would depend: “On the development of world astronautics, of the means of delivering them to orbit.”

“We approach the implementation of our space programme very carefully, gradually,” he said.