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UAE In Talks With Russia On Training Emirati Astronauts For International Space Station Missions

NASA Astronaut Bruce McCandless II using a Manned Maneuvering Unit outside Space Shuttle Challenger on shuttle mission STS-41-B in 1984. Photograph courtesy of NASA.

Russian news outlets TASS and Pravda are reporting that the UAE Space Agency and Roscosmos have held talks at the 68th International Astronautical Congress (IAC) in Adelaide, Australia, about training Emirati astronauts and then launching them from Russian soil to the International Space Station (ISS) as early as 2019.

Sergey Krikalev, Executive Director of Manned Spaceflight Programmes at Roscosmos, told TASS that, “An agreement of intent has been signed today with the UAE space agency, which implies wide-ranging cooperation. The partnership may involve manned programmes, and, as far as I understand, it is not about a tourist flight. The Arab side is interested in creating its own cosmonaut team.”

The UAE talks with Roscosmos come after the announcement in April 2017 of the UAE National Space Programme that includes the aim of sending Emirati astronauts to the ISS.

Since any Emirati astronaut would a representative of the UAE Space Agency – an Emirati federal government agency – they would be regarded as an actual mission member rather than a paid guest on board the ISS, an important distinction. To that end, it appears that the UAE and Russia have also discussed potential production of space equipment and science experiments to be installed and conducted on the ISS by Emirati astronauts and Russian cosmonauts,

“We explained to our partners that this is the easiest and most evident thing we should start with. This is an international platform for formulating technologies. We are ready to include their list of experiments in a number [of experiments] held on board the ISS,” Krikalev told TASS.

The UAE-Russian discussions are in their early stages, but seem to cover assistance in astronaut selection and parts of their training. Industry rumours are suggesting that the majority of the Emirati astronaut training will take place at the European Space Agency astronaut training centre located at Cologne, Germany, with other training taking place at the Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Centre near Moscow in Russia.

Sergey Krikalev told TASS that, “the given agreement concerns developing opportunities, including assistance in selecting the cosmonaut team: Our experts may help them select their candidates and organize trainings, some of which may be held in Russia, in the Cosmonaut Training Centre.”

It is understood that the initial selection and training will involve two Emirati astronaut candidates, one selected as the mission specialist who shall go to the ISS, the other acting as a back up in case of a problem with the primary candidate. This said, details are still scarce and what information is available is coming out of Russian sources, albeit sources generally more reliable than some other Russian media outlets.

Talks will continue at the Dubai Airshow in November 2017 and potentially at the Global Space Congress in Abu Dhabi in February 2018.

“The next round of talks will be held at the Dubai airshow, I guess, and on another platform next February. By the way, the UAE experts already came to us for the ISS manned mission launch at the Baikonur Cosmodrome and saw the final stage of work,” said Krikalev to TASS reporters, referring to a visit to te Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan by a delegation from the UAE Space Agency for the recent launch of astronauts and cosmonauts to the ISS.

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