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The United Arab Emirates has chosen new astronauts, the first of whom is a woman

The United Arab Emirates increased the scale of its astronaut corps on April 10 when it named two new space explorers, the first of whom is a woman, who will begin training at NASA sometime this year.  Mohammad AlMulla and Nora AlMatrooshi were chosen from a list of 4,305 candidates by the UAE government to enter the nation’s tiny astronaut corps. They follow the first Emirati astronauts, Sultan AlNeyadi and Hazzaa AlMansoori, who were chosen in 2018.

AlMatrooshi is the very first Emirati woman to be chosen as an astronaut. She is a mechanical engineer who works for the National Petroleum Construction Company in the United Arab Emirates. AlMulla is a pilot as well as the director of the Dubai Police’s Air Wing Centre’s training branch. Since the astronaut program’s eligibility deadline expired in May 2020, the two were chosen by a screening procedure. The Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC) was in charge of this effort, which reduced the 4,305 original applicants to 122 applicants who were questioned virtually.

After those interviews, the remaining applicants were split in half, and medical screenings were conducted, yielding 30 finalists. 14 people were selected for interviews with new UAE astronauts AlMansoori and AlNeyadi, as well as NASA astronauts Anne McClain and Jessica Meir, in the second round of interviews. AlMatrooshi and AlMulla were chosen to select four contestants who underwent “rigorous assessments” for fitness, leadership abilities, and coordination.

“After obtaining applicants, the team at the MBRSC worked diligently to review them according to strict requirements and standards, and then performed continual tests to ensure the placement of the best applicants, before we reached this stage to reveal the new space explorers,” Salem AlMarri, MBRSC’s head of the astronaut program, stated in a statement. Provided that around a third of the candidates were women, AlMarri predicted one of the newest astronauts would be a woman in an exchange last year. “From the citizens who applied, we would pick the strongest and the brightest,” he said at the time. “One or even two of such seats should go to a female Emirati,” says the author.

Only one Emirati has been able to go to space so far: AlMansoori, who travelled to the International Space Station for one week in the fall of the year 2019. The UAE government has made no firm arrangements to send further astronauts to the International Space Station or other flights. AlMatrooshi, as well as AlMulla, the two current astronauts, would practice at NASA with those chosen for NASA’s own new space explorers’ class later this year. In September 2020, NASA, as well as MBRSC, reported a reimbursable Space Act Agreement that will enable the two newest astronauts to learn as part of the new batch, as well as the UAE’s first two space explorers, AlMansoori as well as AlNeyadi, to receive separate preparation at the Johnson Space Center.

The current UAE astronauts will be trained “to the same degree as graduates of the program” of NASA astronauts as well as will work for NASA’s astronaut office, according to NASA. “The training provided under this agreement would prepare UAE astronauts for potential long-duration station missions,” NASA stated in a report announcing the deal. Last year, AlMarri stated that the UAE was exploring options for flying its astronauts on the Soyuz missions as well as commercial crew vessels from Boeing as well as SpaceX, but that partnering with China was not a choice. “We continue to look at various opportunities to reserve a spot for one of our explorers during next year,” he added.

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