New UAE astronauts prepare for Ramadan and family reunions: report

two astronaut candidates waving in flight suits in front of a us flag and a t-38 jet. on the stage behind, seated astronaut candidates applaud
UAE astronauts Mohammad AlMulla (left) and Nora AlMatrooshi after their selection as candidates was announced on Dec. 6, 2021. (Image credit: NASA/James Blair)

The United Arab Emirates' (UAE) newest astronauts are looking forward to family reunions as Ramadan approaches, according to a media report.

UAE Space Agency astronauts Nora AlMatrooshi and Mohammad AlMulla both graduated from basic training on Tuesday (March 5) alongside 10 NASA astronauts, in a ceremony near Johnson Space Center in Houston.

In the last 2.5 years, the UAE duo has traveled the world learning about basic skills like spacewalking, piloting T-38 jets and doing work on the International Space Station (ISS) and for the Artemis program to send astronauts to the moon. They recently talked about their plans for Ramadan, which starts Sunday (March 10), in a Khaleej Times report.

Related: NASA graduates new astronaut class as it begins recruiting for more

AlMatrooshi's graduation ceremony was attended by a "huge group of family" that flew from the Emirates to see her cross the stage; her sister also came from Toronto, Canada, which is only a few hours' flight from Houston. But other family members are eager for her to make a visit to the UAE, she said in the report.

When asked if she would return for Ramadan, AlMatrooshi said she "will be coming soon," according to the report. "My grandmother, I know, is waiting for me to come back, and I can't wait to tell the rest of my family about my experiences here," she added.

AlMulla said he will be coming back to the UAE as Ramadan begins. "I've been away for over two years, but I got all the support from them," he said in the report. 

"I think it's a good time to return and spend time with the families," he added. "I missed my mother's food. I also miss my friends and colleagues, and I miss flying. Every day, there is something in Dubai."

Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, is based on local sightings of the crescent moon. The 2024 iteration will last from about March 10 to April 9. (The Islamic lunar-facing calendar means the dates change every year in relation to the Gregorian calendar, which most of the world uses.)

Most adult Muslims fast from dawn to sunset as one of the five Pillars of Islam, but last year, the UAE's first long-duration astronaut told reporters he would need to put ISS operations first. Sultan Al Neyadi's half-year flight included Ramadan, which began last year on March 23.

"We're actually allowed to eat sufficient food and to prevent any escalation of lack of food or nutrition or hydration," Al Neyadi said of Muslim travelers during a pre-flight press conference on Jan. 25, 2023. He emphasized that his orbital activities must be adjusted so that he does not "jeopardize the mission or maybe put the crewmember in a risk." 

The first-ever Muslim astronaut to go to space, Prince Sultan bin Salman Al-Saud of Saudi Arabia, coincidentally arrived towards the end of the holy month on June 17, 1985, during the week-long STS-51G space shuttle mission. He fasted pre-launch and broke his fast in space, with his American crew members staying alongside him in support until he was allowed to eat.

These days, the UAE participates in NASA missions both in ISS excursions, and as a member of the U.S.-led Artemis Accords. Some partners in the 35-nation pact directly supply hardware for Artemis missions, like the UAE, and all signatories commit to peaceful exploration norms led by NASA.

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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell (she/her), Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022 covering diversity, education and gaming as well. She was contributing writer for for 10 years before joining full-time. Elizabeth's reporting includes multiple exclusives with the White House and Office of the Vice-President of the United States, an exclusive conversation with aspiring space tourist (and NSYNC bassist) Lance Bass, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, flying parabolic, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, "Why Am I Taller?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and a Bachelor of History from Canada's Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science at several institutions since 2015; her experience includes developing and teaching an astronomy course at Canada's Algonquin College (with Indigenous content as well) to more than 1,000 students since 2020. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: