A Russian media report is claiming that the first astronaut from the United Arab Emirates is to be launched to the International Space Station (ISS) on board a Russian Soyuz spacecraft as soon as April 2019, even going as far as apparently bumping a wealthy U.S. businessman who is paying U.S.$45-50 million to visit the ISS as a space tourist.
The claim is made by Russian news outlet Sputnik, not known as the most reliable outlet for information, but if true would be noteworthy since it implies that either the UAE is further ahead in its astronaut selection process than is publicly known, or the story is an attempt by Russian authorities to pressure the UAE into sending one of its astronaut corps members to take a vacant Soyuz seat in April 2019 for more money than the unnamed U.S. businessman is paying.
“A US businessman expressed his will to become the next space tourist. But, probably, he will not be able to fly to the ISS in spring 2019. The seat is planned to be occupied by the first cosmonaut of the United Arab Emirates, with which Roscosmos has signed an agreement on cooperation in the selection and training of the national space crew,” said an anonymous Russian space industry source quoted by Sputnik.
The UAE has only just completed its first round of astronaut selection, with several more rounds to go before the process arrives at four individuals who will comprise the UAE Astronaut Programme. All four individuals will then undertake extensive and grueling astronaut training in Russia, Europe, and the United States before two are selected to go to the ISS on separate missions while the other two will serve as alternates and support functions on Earth. Given where the UAE currently stands in its astronaut selection process, it is difficult to understand how a candidate could be selected and trained in time for an April 2019 mission to the ISS.
There could, of course, already be a UAE astronaut that has been selected and trained separately from the formal UAE Astronaut Programme, but SpaceWatch.Global sources in the UAE have not heard of any such private arrangement.
As events unfold SpaceWatch.Global will report on any further developments.