The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has selected two new trainees for its burgeoning astronaut corps, including its first female candidate.
Nora AlMatrooshi, a 28-year-old mechanical engineer, and Mohammad AlMulla, a 32-year-old pilot for the Dubai Police, were announced on Saturday (April 10) by the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Center (MBRSC) in Dubai. Their addition doubles the number of UAE astronauts, joining Hazza AlMansouri, who spent 8 days on the International Space Station in 2019, and Sultan AlNeyadi, his backup.
"With the support of our wise leadership, Emirati youth continue to make great strides and push their ambition to new limits. Today, two new Emirati astronauts joined the UAE Astronaut Program. Our young talents continue to set a model example to the world with their determination," Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed, the Crown Prince of Dubai, wrote on Twitter.
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AlMatrooshi and AlMulla were chosen from an initial pool of 4,305 applicants who replied to the UAE Space Agency's call for recruits in 2019. The two were among 14 finalists — nine men and five women — who qualified for the last round of interviews conducted by Al Mansoori and AlNeyadi, as well as NASA astronauts Anne McClain and Jessica Meir.
AlMatrooshi and AlMulla will join NASA's next astronaut class to undergo basic training and to prepare for missions to the space station and possibly the moon. In September 2020, NASA and the MBRSC signed an agreement to train UAE astronauts at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. Under the pact, Al Mansoori and AlNeyadi have already undergone training on space station systems, robotics and spacewalking at Johnson.
"Congratulations to Nora AlMatrooshi and Mohammed AlMulla for joining the team of the UAE Astronaut Program," said Al Mansoori on Twitter. "We await you in preparation for new missions and exchange our expertise."
"I wish that we succeed together in raising the name of our nation ever higher," he said.
AlMatrooshi earned her bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering from United Arab Emirates University in Al Ain, Abu Dhabi before accepting a position at the National Petroleum Construction Company, where she was also vice president of the Youth Council. AlMatrooshi ranked first in the UAE in the 2011 International Mathematical Olympiad and is a member of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME).
"Her passion for space began at a young age, as she enjoyed going to stargazing events," the MBRSC said in a video statement.
"The nation gave me unforgettable moments today. I aim to work hard to script historical moments and achievements that will be etched forever in the memory of our people," AlMatrooshi said on Twitter. "Preparations and work begin now."
AlMulla received his bachelor's degree in law and economics and earned his Executive Master of Public Administration from the Mohammed Bin Rashid School of Government in Dubai. A commercial pilot and flight instructor licensed by the Australian Civil Aviation Authority, he was the youngest pilot in the Dubai Police at age 19 and youngest flight trainer at 28 years old.
"His passion for space was born out of his love for aviation," the MSBRC said. "He got further interested in the field after the announcement of the first batch of the UAE Astronaut Program."
"What was a dream I worked to achieve has today become a responsibility that I will put all my efforts to meet," AlMulla wrote on Twitter. "Proud to join the UAE Astronaut Program and get ready for new missions."
The UAE Astronaut Program was founded in 2017 to prepare an Emirati astronaut corps and to create "a culture of scientific endeavor [to motivate UAE] youth to pursue space science and technology." The astronaut corps is managed by the UAE Space Agency and is funded by the ICT Fund of the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA), which promotes the country's integration on the global stage.