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Participation in the United Arab Emirates’ recently announced astronauts programme is a once-in-a- lifetime opportunity that should not be missed, two of the initiative’s top officials said on Monday.
Dubai’s ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum last week announced on his official Twitter account a new government-backed plan to select, train and sponsor four UAE citizens to become astronauts and represent their country in space exploration trips. (Read the full news report here).
The UAE Astronaut Programme will be managed by Dubai’s Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC) and on Monday two of its top officials spoke to Zawya and My Salaam in a joint interview about the programme’s details and timeline.
“Participating in this programme carries an opportunity that will not be repeated and happens only once and our youngsters should benefit from it,” according to Yousuf Hamad AlShaibani, director general of MBRSC.
Salem Humaid AlMarri, assistant for the science and technology sector at MBRSC, added that the astronaut plans are part of “the UAE’s national space programme” and will help the country secure “space rights” for its citizens.
Here are the top 10 things you need to know about the UAE Astronaut Programme:
Four Emiratis will be selected to be trained as astronauts, out of which one or two will be initially sent to the International Space Station (ISS) in two or three years, based on the availability of a mission.
More than 1,000 people applied in the first week after the programme was announced. Applicants have two months from the date of the announcement to apply for the programme.
Candidates will be shortlisted after an assessment, which could take 8 to 10 months to complete. The different phases of the assessment include testing candidates for class 1 medical certificates, psychological and psychometric tests, detailed medical tests and one-on-one interviews. Before selecting the final four, a smaller group of shortlisted candidates will be asked to work on different programmes to gauge the different skill sets they have.
The four selected astronauts will undergo one year of training, followed by mission-specific training, which could be 12 to 18 months, depending on the mission, followed by flight-specific training.
The training methods will be similar to those in other countries that have sent astronauts to ISS. MBRSC is currently working with international entities to facilitate training, including the United States’ National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the European Space Agency and the Russia’s Roscosmos State Corporation for Space Activities.
Astronauts generally think in the same way to engineers and scientists. Therefore, a degree in STEM subjects – science, technology, engineering and mathematics – is preferred.
MBRSC is eyeing candidates with well-rounded skill sets. The ideal candidate should be a strong leader, a good follower, a team worker, a fast decision maker and should be able to work under pressure. Not to forget, an ideal candidate should also have good mechanical skills.
Astronauts will become employees of MBRSC and will receive a salary structure similar to other government employees. When not flying, they will act as ambassadors of the UAE, representing the nation at science and technology fairs and outreach programmes.
Astronauts will be encouraged to continue their education and opt for fellowship programmes in other space agencies, including NASA.
Women will not get a special quota or special treatment. Only skills, experiences and test results will determine who can join the programme.
The astronaut programme is one of a number of initiatives the UAE is involved in as part of its focus on space exploration. The emirates will host the 71st International Astronautical Congress (IAC) in 2020, according to a Khaleej Times report. The IAC is the global space sector’s largest international conference.