The UAE Is Close to Choosing Final Four Astronaut Candidates For ISS With an Eye on 2020 Mars Voyage
Starting this past January, the United Arab Emirate's Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC) has been conducting interviews to build the country's first astronaut corps. After starting with 4,000+ applicants, the initial pool was narrowed down to a shortlist of 95, which was then reduced to 39 candidates for the first round of interviews. Now, only 18 candidates have moved on to the final interview stage, which will select four to officially join the corps and only one to join the Soyuz MS-12 mission, which is planning to launch in April 2019.
The battery of tests and interviews used to screen candidates measured factors like intelligence, neurocognitive abilities, and the ability to endure the stressful conditions of space. According to Yousuf Al Shaibani, the director general of the MBRSC: "The UAE Astronaut Programme strives to...support the vision of our wise leadership to build a national team of Emiratis who will be fully trained and prepared to achieve the UAE's ambitions in this field, as per global standards. This will enable the UAE to become a hub for the region's space sector, it will inspire next generations in the UAE and the region to become innovators in different fields including space science and technology."
Once selected, the candidates will undergo a three-year training program divided into modules. The program consists of one year of basic training which includes research techniques and culminates in learning to spacewalk in an underwater simulator and two years of advanced training. That's when the real work begins. According to the MBRSC,
The United Arab Emirates have made international headlines with their rapidly advancing (and remarkably ambitious) space program, which includes a unmanned voyage to Mars scheduled to reach the planet in 2021 as part of a much larger vision of establishing a human colony on Mars by 2117. To prepare for Martian colonization, the UAE has begun building a sprawling, futuristic "science city" that simulates a Martian settlement, similar to the much smaller HI-SEAS habitat in Hawaii.
If the interview process goes well, the first Emirati astronaut will be announced at the end of the month. Their first mission, Soyuz MS-12, will take them to the ISS, where they will spend 10 days aboard the station.