The United Arab Emirates' pioneering astronaut, Nora Al Matrooshi, is poised to make history as she prepares to graduate from NASA's rigorous training program in Houston, Texas, early this March, NASA officials have confirmed. Alongside her colleague, Mohammed Al Mulla, a former Dubai Police helicopter pilot, and 11 American astronaut candidates, Nora will join the prestigious ranks of the NASA astronaut class of 2023.
Upon graduation, Nora Al Matrooshi and her fellow candidates will become eligible for a wide range of space missions, including assignments to the International Space Station (ISS) and participation in future US-led missions, such as those planned under NASA's ambitious Artemis program, which aims to return humans to the Moon and eventually set the stage for Mars exploration.
The intensive training program, which commenced in 2021 at NASA's Johnson Space Centre, encompassed a series of challenging courses, including land survival, flight training, spacesuit and spacewalks, and geology field training. Reflecting on her journey, Nora Al Matrooshi shared her childhood dream of becoming an astronaut, stating, "I first started dreaming of becoming an astronaut when my teacher in kindergarten asked us to build a tent and pretend it was a spacecraft that was taking us to the Moon. Since then, I've become extremely passionate about becoming an astronaut. This is a life-changing opportunity. The dream I've had since a child has come true. Now, I've started dreaming bigger."
While NASA has yet to announce the exact location and date of the graduation ceremony, it is traditionally held at the Johnson Space Centre. The 2023 astronaut class patch proudly displays both the US and UAE flags, creatively shaped like a fly. The design features an astronaut reaching for the Moon, with Mars depicted in the distance, symbolizing NASA's commitment to establishing human presence on the Moon and embarking on future Mars missions as part of the Artemis program.
Nora Al Matrooshi follows in the footsteps of UAE's previous astronauts, Sultan Al Neyadi, who returned from a successful six-month mission aboard the ISS in September, and Hazza Al Mansouri, the first Emirati in space, both of whom completed the NASA training program in 2022. Furthermore, the UAE has secured a spot for one of its astronauts on the Lunar Gateway, a Moon-orbiting station. As the selection process for the first Emirati astronaut to embark on a Gateway mission unfolds, Salem Al Marri, director general of the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre, affirms, "We have four astronauts, and all of them will be trained. But this is not something that we can decide at this stage, and as we get closer and start getting into the operational elements, then we get into mission selection."