The Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC) has selected the first two Emiratis to be part of a mission that prepares humans for future exploration of Mars and other planets.
Abdallah AlHammadi and Saleh AlAmeri have started training for the eight-month analog mission that will be conducted in Moscow later this year.
UAE Analog Mission#1 is part of the Scientific International Research in Unique Terrestrial Station (SIRIUS) SIRIUS 20/21 that will be conducted at the NEK ground-based analogue facility in Moscow.
The candidates (one primary and one backup) will be part of the mission’s CrewONE team. The mission will study the effects of isolation and confinement on human psychology, physiology and team dynamics to help prepare for long-duration space exploration.
Abdallah AlHammadi has a foundation degree in aerospace engineering from the Manchester Metropolitan and a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Abu Dhabi University. He has been part of the UAE Armed Forces for the past 17 years and is currently the Crew Chief of the Maintenance Department (first and second line).
Saleh AlAmeri has a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Khalifa University and is a certified vibration analyst from the Mobius Institute. With over six years of experience in his field, AlAmeri is currently working as a mechanical engineer with ADNOC. AlAmeri’s team had won second place in the Abu Dhabi Solar Challenge 2015, designing the first of its kind solar car in the Arab world that had a mileage of 1,200 km.
Speaking about the selection of astronauts, Yousuf Hamad AlShaibani, Director-General, MBRSC said: “We are entering a new era of space exploration in the UAE, and we are proud to have Abdallah AlHammadi and Saleh AlAmeri join our team at MBRSC to further our pursuit in this field. Through the futuristic vision of our leadership, we have achieved significant milestones in the space sector, and we will continue to invest in projects that are critical for advancing our knowledge-based economy. The UAE’s participation in the analog mission also reaffirms and continues our rich legacy of collaborative efforts that will help benefit humankind and ensure the sustained growth of the global space economy.”
Adnan AlRais, Mars 2117 Programme Manager, MBRSC added: “The analogue mission is a critically important programme that is essential to keep astronauts safe and healthy during long-duration spaceflights. Through our participation, we will be able to contribute to understanding the science behind such missions. It will also provide crucial data that will help us undertake more ambitious space exploration challenges including for the Mars 2117 Programme.”
During the call for applications, MBRSC announced that it was looking for Emirati candidates between the ages of 28 and 55, who were passionate about space and can communicate in English. Preferred occupations included physicians, medical investigators, physiologists, biologists, life-support specialists, and IT and electronics professionals.
MBRSC received 172 applications for the positions, and the applicants underwent various phases of rigorous evaluation in accordance with international standards, before the final two candidates were selected. Women accounted for 62% of the candidates that applied for the position, with the youngest candidate being a 25-year-old female and the oldest a 40-year-old male.
The analog astronauts are currently undergoing in-house training, which includes training on the experiments proposed by principal investigators from local universities and Russian language training in preparation for the SIRIUS 20/21 mission.
An international mission set to be conducted in the NEK facility in Moscow, the SIRIUS series’ primary purpose is to understand the effects of isolation and confinement on the human body. The analog mission is also part of the space exploration strategy that NASA had adopted as part of its Human Research Programme.
As part of the mission, crewmembers are isolated and given certain tasks, which they need to do without communicating to the outside world. The mission simulates the various stages and scenarios of a manned mission to Mars including launch, orbit, landing, and return.
The SIRIUS programme features a multi-cultural crew that could potentially undertake sustainable missions to Mars or other space exploration missions. Such missions are integral to gaining a comprehensive understanding of how human beings react physically when in isolation and the impact isolation has on the bodies of people in an enclosed space.
The UAE’s participation in the SIRIUS mission will play a key role in developing Emirati capabilities and contribute to the development of the Mars 2117 Programme, which aims to establish human colonies in Mars by 2117. The Mars 2117 initiative is funded by the ICT fund of the Telecommunications and Digital Government Regulatory Authority.
MBRSC invited universities in the UAE to participate in the mission. A total of 15 universities from the UAE submitted research papers, out of which five entries from four universities in the fields of physiology, psychology and biology were selected after consultation with the mission partners in Russia.
One of the proposed research studies selected for the mission is from the Mohammed Bin Rashid University of Medicine and Health Sciences, which focuses on understanding how prolonged exposure to a space analog environment affects cardiovascular variability and cardiopostural interactions. The research topic selected from the University of Sharjah proposes a study to delineate the effects of stress-induced by confinement and isolation on circulatory and skeletal muscle function of crew members during the mission. The study plans to measure clinical, genomics, transcriptomic and proteomics parameters.
Other topics selected for the mission include the American University of Sharjah’s research on the mitigation of mental stress in isolation and confined environments, and the United Arab Emirates University’s research on the psychological challenges of isolation during human spaceflight, which proposes to explore the role of motivational dynamics and the benefits of high-intensity intermittent training as a countermeasure to prevent bone loss and insulin resistance in the space environment.