UAE shortlists 61 candidates for astronaut program

A man takes a picture of an illustration depicting an astronaut with the Emirati national flag outside Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC) in Dubai on September 25, 2019. (File/AFP)
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Updated 15 November 2020

UAE shortlists 61 candidates for astronaut program

  • The list was first filtered down to 2099 applicants based on their age, educational background, and scientific research experience
  • Two candidates will then be selected from the final list to form the second batch of the UAE astronaut program

DUBAI:  The UAE announced on Sunday that 61 out of 4,305 applicants were shortlisted for the astronaut program that aims to find the next two astronauts for crewed space missions.

The shortlisted candidates include 41 men and 20 women from across the UAE.  The average age of the applicants stood at 28-yearsold, with the youngest candidate being 23 and the oldest 39.

The list was first filtered down to 2099 applicants based on their age, educational background, and scientific research experience, the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC) said in a press release.

The applicants then underwent an online test, through which the best 1,000 candidates were selected. In the next phase, the 1,000 candidates were made to undergo IQ, personality, and technical assessments. The top 122 from the 1,000 were interviewed virtually, bringing the shortlist down to 61 candidates.

Three of the applicants hold a PhD, while 12 have a master’s degree. Over 50 percent of the applicants were from the engineering sector, while the rest were from the military, aviation and healthcare sectors.

“Our ambition to strengthen the UAE's position among leading countries in the space sector is the foundation under which the Programme was established,” Yousuf Hamad Al-Shaibani, Director General, Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre, said.

“Building on our strategy in the space sector and solid foundations, our goal now is to continue to focus on developing a national cadre of astronauts capable of achieving the nation's ambitions in this field at the highest international levels and support future space exploration missions,” Al-Shaibani added.

The candidates are currently undergoing advanced medical tests, MBRSC said. A select number of candidates will be shortlisted after this for an initial interview to be conducted by a committee from MBRSC.

Candidates that make it through the initial interview will move on to the next round, where they will have a final round of interview conducted by a panel of experts from MBRSC, including astronauts Hazzaa Al-Mansoori and Sultan Al-Neyadi. Two candidates will then be selected from the final list to form the second batch of the UAE astronaut program.

As part of a joint cooperation agreement between the UAE and the US, the two new astronauts will join the NASA Astronaut Candidate Class of 2021 and train at the Johnson Space Centre in the US. The Emirati astronauts will undergo the same training programme as those of NASA astronauts, which will help them prepare physically and psychologically for future space exploration missions.

The final selected candidates will undergo an intensive multi-stage training programme, in accordance with the highest international standards. They will first undergo a basic training phase, during which they will learn the objectives and plans of the programme, the basics of scientific disciplines, including space engineering and scientific research, as well as procedures and regulations of the International Space Station.

Candidates will also learn Russian, get trained on scientific research procedures in space and then move on to the advanced and intensive training phase. During this phase, candidates will learn to maintain and manage payloads, as well as a range of skills including robotics, navigation, medical aid and resource management. All this will enable astronauts to be eligible to participate in missions to the International Space Station.

“When we launched the UAE Astronaut Programme, we had a clear goal of developing Emirati talent and local capabilities that contribute to our leadership’s vision of making the UAE a hub for space science and technology,” Salem Al-Marri, Assistant Director General for Scientific and Technical Affairs and Head of the UAE Astronaut Programme, MBRSC, said.

“The second batch of the Programme aligns with this vision as we continue to seek the skills and expertise that enable us to enhance our knowledge in the space sector,” Al-Marri added.

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Iran prepares to bury killed nuclear scientist as it mulls response

Updated 30 November 2020

Iran prepares to bury killed nuclear scientist as it mulls response

  • Mohsen Fakhrizadeh died from wounds sustained in a firefight between his guards and unidentified gunmen near Tehran
  • President Hassan Rouhani has stressed the country will seek its revenge in “due time” and not be rushed into a “trap”

TEHRAN: Debate raged in Iran on Sunday over how and when to respond to a top nuclear scientist’s assassination, blamed on arch-foe Israel, as his body was honored at Shiite shrines to prepare it for burial.
Two days after Mohsen Fakhrizadeh died from wounds sustained in a firefight between his guards and unidentified gunmen near Tehran, parliament demanded a halt to international inspections of Iranian nuclear sites while a top official hinted Iran should leave the global non-proliferation treaty.
Iran’s Supreme National Security Council usually handles decisions related to the country’s nuclear program, and parliamentary bills must be approved by the powerful Guardians Council.
President Hassan Rouhani has stressed the country will seek its revenge in “due time” and not be rushed into a “trap.”
Israel says Fakhrizadeh was the head of an Iranian military nuclear program, the existence of which the Islamic republic has consistently denied, and Washington had sanctioned him in 2008 for activities linked to Iran’s atomic activities.
The scientist’s body was taken for a ceremony on Sunday at a major shrine in the holy city of Qom before being transported to the shrine of the Islamic republic’s founder Imam Khomeini, according to Iranian media.
On Monday live video from Tehran, shared by national outlet Iran Press, showed uniformed men gathering around images of Fakhrizadeh seemingly ahead of a procession.
His funeral will be held in the presence of senior military commanders and his family, the defense ministry said on its website, without specifying where.
Israel has not officially commented on Fakhrizadeh’s killing, less than two months before US President-elect Joe Biden is set to take office after four years of hawkish foreign policy under President Donald Trump.
Trump withdrew the US from a multilateral nuclear agreement with Iran in 2018 and then reimposed and beefed up punishing sanctions as part of its “maximum pressure” campaign against Tehran.
Biden has signalled his administration may be prepared to rejoin the accord, but the nuclear scientist’s assassination has revived opposition to the deal among Iranian conservatives.
The head of Iran’s Expediency Council, a key advisory and arbitration body, said there was “no reason why (Iran) should not reconsider the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty.”
Mohsen Rezai said Tehran should also halt implementation of the additional protocol, a document prescribing intrusive inspections of Iran’s nuclear facilitates.
Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called Saturday for Fakhrizadeh’s killers to be punished.
Parliament speaker Mohammad-Bagher Ghalibaf called Sunday for “a strong reaction” that would “deter and take revenge” on those behind the killing of Fakhrizadeh, who was aged 59 according to Iranian media.
For Israeli newspaper Haaretz, Fakhrizadeh’s killing was clearly tied to Biden’s arrival in office.
“The timing of the assassination, even if it was determined by purely operational considerations, is a clear message to President-elect Joe Biden, intended to show Israel’s criticism” of plans to revive the deal, it said.
The UAE, which in September normalized ties with Israel, condemned the killing and urged restraint.
The foreign ministry, quoted by the official Emirati news agency WAM, said Abu Dhabi “condemns the heinous assassination of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, which could further fuel conflict in the region...
“The UAE calls upon all parties to exercise maximum degrees of self-restraint to avoid dragging the region into new levels of instability and threat to peace,” it said.
Britain, a party to the nuclear accord, said Sunday it was “concerned” about possible escalation of tensions in the Middle East following the assassination, while Turkey called the killing an act of “terrorism” that “upsets peace in the region.”
In Iran, ultra-conservative Kayhan daily called for strikes on Israel if it were “proven” to be behind the assassination.
Kayhan called for the port city of Haifa to be targeted “in a way that would annihilate its infrastructure and leave a heavy human toll.”
Iran has responded to the US withdrawal from the 2015 deal by gradually abandoning most of its key nuclear commitments under the agreement.
Rezai called on Iran’s atomic agency to take “minimum measures” such as “stopping the online broadcast of cameras, reducing or suspending inspectors and implementing restrictions in their access” to sites, ISNA news agency reported.
Iran’s parliament said the “best response” to the assassination would be to “revive Iran’s glorious nuclear industry.”
It called for International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors to be barred from the country’s atomic sites, said the legislature’s news agency ICANA.
Some MPs had earlier accused inspectors of acting as “spies” potentially responsible for Fakhrizadeh’s death.
But the spokesman for Iran’s atomic energy organization, Behrouz Kamalvandi, told IRNA on Saturday that the issue of inspectors’ access “must be decided on at high levels” of the Islamic republic’s leadership.