Probably one of the most memorable moments of my life was when I was watching the night sky back in the 80s. Back then, the sky looked different, and we were able to see our magnificent galaxy “Milky Way” much more clearly. I was fortunate to be born in a remote area called Umm Ghafa, located 32 km away from Al Ain city, the second-largest city in the emirate of Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates. Since Umm Ghafa was quite remote, we had minimal light pollution that made stars more visible. It was fun, especially when trying to count the stars with my brothers and sisters. Although it seemed impossible at that time, the idea of visiting these stars captured my imagination, mostly since Star Blazers - an animated television series was my favourite thing to watch. The series was about the crew of a spaceship, who was the last hope for humanity to defeat an extra-terrestrial enemy. The main character was Derek Wildstar, a pilot and an astronaut. Therefore, my childhood dream was to be a pilot and an astronaut.
My father worked for years in the aviation academy, and I used to see him in his blue suit every day. This convinced me even more to pursue my dream of being a pilot and an astronaut. It was only in the 3rd grade that I learned that my father was not a pilot but was involved in ground training. For an eight-year-old boy that was a setback, as I believed my father would help me fly closer to the stars or at least teach me how to be a pilot like him. It got even more challenging when I found out that to be a pilot, one should have perfect eyesight, which I lacked. I wore glasses throughout my final years in high school. Upon graduation, I applied to many places for higher education. Unfortunately, the aviation academy was not one among them. The aviation academy accepted only those with perfect eyesight, among other medical and physical attributes. So, I decided to be an engineer, just like many of my friends who got scholarships from the military to study communications engineering abroad.
Although I found myself attracted to engineering, I did not let go of my childhood dream. My first assignment in the engineering management course was to write about communication technologies, and I chose communication satellites as my topic. Throughout my military career and academic life, starting from my bachelor’s degree up until receiving my PhD degree in information technology, space was an inescapable obsession. I owned a telescope at one stage that allowed me to view the Moon, Saturn and Jupiter, which was an unforgettable experience. My favourite books and movies were always linked to space. My computer screen wallpapers were pictures of beautiful distant nebulas or galaxies taken by the Hubble space telescope.
In the year 2017, at the age of 37, my passion for space led me to attend the first science event organized by the Mohammed bin Rashed Space Centre (MBRSC). This event came to showcase our country’s achievements in the space sector which included imaging satellites, Emirates Mars Mission “Hope Probe” and Mars Science City. It was evident that the UAE was doing everything possible to further its space sector. It was only a matter of time before we would have an Emirati astronaut. I went to the event with my eight-year-old daughter Reem, in the hope that she would get inspired and fulfil her father’s dream of becoming an astronaut when the opportunity arose within 10 or 15 years. She was so excited and thrilled to be there, and I saw in her eyes a familiar shine - something I had when I was her age. It was only a month after that event that MBRSC announced the launch of the UAE Astronaut Programme. The search for UAE’s first astronauts had officially begun. That announcement revived my childhood dream, and it was like a call for captain Wildstar to join the crew on an epic journey. I applied with no hesitation, and I went back home that day and told my daughter: “Reem! Get ready, I think we are going to space soon!”
Favourite childhood book? World Atlas
Favourite book right now? We Have No Idea: A Guide to the Unknown by Jorge Cham, Daniel Whiteson.
Favourite lesson at school? Science
Favourite animal/lifeform? Falcon
Favourite hero/heroine? My Father
Voice of Sultan AlNeyadi
Sultan AlNeyadi is one of the two selected astronauts in the UAE Astronaut Programme, launched by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, and His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, in 2017. The Programme aims to train and prepare a team of Emirati astronauts and send them to space for various scientific missions.
AlNeyadi was selected from over 4,000 candidates, following a series of mental and physical tests in the UAE and abroad. He is a holder of a PhD in information technology (data leakage prevention).