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Emirati astronaut to fly long-duration space station mission

WASHINGTON — The United Arab Emirates will carry an astronaut on a long-duration mission to the International Space Station through an agreement with Axiom Space.

Axiom and the United Arab Emirates’ Mohammed bin Rashid Space Center (MBRSC) announced on April 29 that they have signed an agreement whereby an Emirati astronaut will go to the station on the Crew-6 mission, a SpaceX Crew Dragon flight to the ISS. whose launch is scheduled no earlier than spring 2023 for a stay of six months.

Axiom was able to make the deal because it had received the seat from NASA in exchange for a Soyuz seat used to transport NASA’s Mark Vande Hei to the ISS last year. Axiom purchased the Soyuz seat from Roscosmos, then gave it to NASA in exchange for a seat on a future commercial crew mission, as an alternative to NASA working directly with Roscosmos.

“Axiom Space is proud to provide MBRSC with a fighting chance for an astronaut from the UAE, enabling his first long-term mission to the ISS,” said Michael Suffredini, president and CEO of Axiom Space, in a statement.

The United Arab Emirates has not revealed who will fly on that mission. It has a four-person astronaut corps, including two who are currently training with NASA’s latest class of astronaut candidates. One of the four, Hazza AlMansoori, became the first Emirati in space when he flew on a Soyuz mission in September 2019 and spent a week in space.

In an interview last October, Salem AlMarri, at the time deputy director general of the MBRSC, said the center was looking at various options for delivering the country’s next astronaut. That included short-lived commercial missions, such as Axiom’s recent Ax-1 flight, as well as partnerships with the United States and Russia.

The Emirati astronaut selected to fly in Crew-6 will be the second person from the United Arab Emirates to enter orbit and the first person not from an ISS partner (Canada, Europe, Japan, Russia and the United States) to remain at the station. for an extended mission.

That astronaut will join two NASA astronauts, Stephen Bowen and Woody Hoburg, whom the agency assigned to Crew-6 last December as commander and pilot, respectively. The mission’s fourth seat has not been assigned, but would likely go to a Russian cosmonaut if the United States and Russia complete a seat swap deal.

The United Arab Emirates began its astronaut program as part of a broader initiative to increase its space presence, an effort that included its Hope spacecraft that has been orbiting Mars since February 2021 and a small lunar rover that will fly a landing mission. Japanese trade later this year. Government officials said the effort is aimed at building a space industry at the company and providing inspiration to young people in the country and throughout the Middle East.

“They reflect the vision of the United Arab Emirates, which positions space exploration as an opportunity to enhance cooperation between countries and entities in pursuit of the common goals of scientific discovery and a sustainable future for humanity,” Hamad Obaid Al Mansoori, MBRSC president, said in a statement.

“This will pave the way for future initiatives that will contribute to strengthening the UAE’s position as a leading nation in the world of space exploration,” added AlMarri, now director general of the MBRSC, in the statement.