Sultan Al Neyadi, an astronaut from the United Arab Emirates (UAE), earned a unique honour and created history on April 28, to become not merely the first ever Arab but even the first Muslim to walk in space. The day incidentally being a Friday in many Muslim countries, was also quite auspicious for them. Attired in the requisite space safety and protection gear, he emerged from the International Space Station (ISS), to perform a spacewalk or rather float in space as part of his mission in the ‘Expedition 69’ that lifted off from the NASA’s Kennedy Space Centre, in Florida on March 02. His mission comprised a 6.5-hour extravehicular activity or assignment (EVA) that involved the retrieval of a radio frequency communication console meant to be brought back to earth. Neyadi was accompanied by Stephen Bowen of NASA and their stroll also involved some groundwork to enable the ISS to be equipped with new solar panels, planned to be sent from earth by some next mission.
His performance was quite appreciated by the ground controller with the remarks, “That was impressive, Sultan. You have a surgeon’s hand”. This admiration evidently highlighted his precise, refined and systematic knack. He had rigorously trained for the reduced gravity lunar environs by spending more than 55 hours underwater in a specially designed pool at the Houston Centre and earned the NASA’s golden pin award for the astronauts. He is stipulated to stay in space for six months and conduct 19 more experiments dealing with various problems about the back pain plus plant cultivation and growth in space.
But his walk has already vowed the UAE as the first Muslim country to have an astronaut with a spacewalk feat. He is also the first long duration astronaut of the Emirate and the second after Hazza Al Mansouri, who flew to the ISS from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on September 25, 2019, for an eight-day mission. He also conducted some experiments on the innovative use of reduced gravity on various industrial techniques. Neyadi, likewise also shares his stature with eight other Muslims including four from the Soviet and Russian regions and four from KSA, Syria, Malaysia and Afghanistan, who have also visited space.
Yet his iconic eminence, is not merely a spacewalk but also another marvelous milestone for the Emirates’ long cherished ideals and achievements in space. The founder of the UAE, as per some accounts, relished to look at the stars and wonder about reaching them even while building the roads to link various parts of his emerging nation. Idolising his vision, the nation in July 2009, launched Dubai Sat-1, its earth observation satellite, from Baikonur, the Soviet launching site in Kazakhstan. It spurred and stimulated the national space sector and furnished the teams of the space engineering and expertise. An autonomous National Space Agency created in 2014 developed its partnership with the French and UK agencies and was expanded to become Khalifa Mohammad bin Rashi Space Centre in 2015. Barely three years after it enabled the nation to design and build one of the world’s most advanced remote sensing satellite. Known as Khalifa Sat and carried by a Korean Satellite bus, it was launched from Japan’s Tanegashima Space Centre.
The progress in space probes rapidly advanced further and the rover rockets built at the Rashid Centre, started rattling to reach the Mars and Moon. The Mission to study the Mars’ surface and atmosphere, named as Hope, was launched in July 2020 by using nation’s own Rashid Rover spacecraft, sent from the Cape Canaveral site, USA, aboard Falcon 9 by the SpaceX contractors. It entered the Mars’s atmosphere on February 9, 2021, making UAE the first Arab and Muslim country to command a mission to the Mars but also the first in the world to send a mission in that month. It is also ranked with the USA and China to have accomplished a successful mission during that span.
It was named Hope to inspire the Youth’s focus on optimism, innovation and leadership to revive the medieval Arab traditions for advancement of human knowledge and progress. The success was evident once again as yet another Rashid spacecraft was launched to land at the Atlas crater on the nearside of the Moon. Prepared in partnership with Japan, mounted on a Hakuto-R, it lifted off from the same renowned US facility on December 11, 2022.
The probe was equipped with a thermal imaging as well as a high-resolution camera combined to analyse the composition of the lunar geology. They were also meant to record the dust movement above the lunar surface, reveal the nature and approximate amount of various chemicals in its rocks as well as to explore the conditions of its surface plasma. Another unique aspect of the rover was the ingenuity to test a variety of different materials that could be used to build lunar wheels. The materials are attached as adhesive strips to Rashid’s wheels to determine which ones offer the best protection against lunar dust and other harsh conditions. One such material is a graphene-based composite that was devised by the University of Cambridge, UK, and Belgium’s Université Libre de Bruxelles It reached the lunar orbit yet the communications with it were barely seconds before it ventured to land on the Moon.
While the attempts to restore the communication, are eagerly awaited the UAE vision for the National Space Strategy 2030 envisages to enhance and expand the probes, performance and presence of its space sector in space race as well as to improve its contribution to the national economy. in the national economy. Yet another aspect of its initiatives in space, has been to beckon and inspire the other Arab and Muslim countries to Saudi Arabia has already announced some of its space programmes. Its success and eminence, similarly can also encourage some other Muslim countries to venture in the space race.