An astronaut from an Arab nation will head to the International Space Station (ISS) for a long-term stay next year for the first time ever, if all goes according to plan.
The Houston company Axiom Space announced today (April 29) that it has signed a deal with the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Center (MBRSC), the space agency of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), to fly a UAE astronaut to the orbiting lab on SpaceX's Crew-6 mission, which is expected to launch in 2023.
A UAE astronaut has been to the ISS once before; Hazza Al Mansoori traveled to the orbiting lab aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft in the fall of 2019 and lived there for eight days. But Crew-6 is expected to be a full-duration ISS mission, lasting about six months.
"Axiom Space is proud to provide MBRSC with a flight opportunity for a UAE astronaut, enabling its first long-term mission to the ISS," Michael Suffredini, president and CEO of Axiom Space, said in a company statement today.
The seat was Axiom's to sell thanks to an exchange with NASA. The agency traded it for an Axiom-procured seat on a Soyuz that was ultimately filled by NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei, who came home March 30 after an American-record 355-day stay aboard the ISS.
"Since the seats were deemed of equal value, there will be no future exchange of funds between NASA and Axiom for the flight opportunity," Axiom representatives wrote in the same statement. "Axiom’s agreement with MBRSC is between the company and the UAE space agency."
Terms of the deal were not disclosed.
Axiom Space ultimately aims to assemble and operate its own space station in low Earth orbit, but the company also organizes crewed flights to the ISS. In fact, Axiom just sent the first-ever all-private astronaut mission to the orbiting lab — a flight with SpaceX called Ax-1, which launched on April 8 and splashed down this past Monday (April 25).
Crew-6 will be the sixth operational astronaut mission that SpaceX flies to the ISS for NASA. The four-person mission will be commanded by NASA astronaut Stephen Bowen and feature the agency's Warren Hoburg as pilot. The identities of the other two crewmembers — including the UAE astronaut — have not yet been announced.
Mike Wall is the author of "Out There" (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or on Facebook.