First Arab spacewalker heads outside International Space Station

Veteran NASA astronaut Steve Bowen and Emirati astronaut Sultan Alneyadi suited up and floated outside the International Space Station Friday for a spacewalk to prepare the outpost for new solar arrays. Alneyadi became the first Arab astronaut to perform a spacewalk.

The astronauts switched their NASA spacesuits to internal battery power at 9:11 a.m. EDT (1511 UTC) to mark the official start of the spacewalk.

Bowen, designated EV1 or lead spacewalker, opened the hatch and exited the space station’s Quest airlock module first, following minutes after by Alneyadi. The excursion was the eighth spacewalk in Bowen’s astronaut career, and the first for Alneyadi, who flew to the space station on a SpaceX Dragon crew capsule last month under an agreement between NASA, the United Arab Emirates, and the Houston-based company Axiom Space.

“Just a quick note to congratulate the UAE for having their flag on an EMU (spacesuit) outside the International Space Station for the first time,” NASA astronaut Anne McClain radioed from mission control in Houston.

“Thank you so much,” Alneyadi replied.

Emirati astronaut Sultan Alneyadi wears a NASA spacesuit with a UAE flag on his arm. Credit: NASA/MBRSC

Alneyadi, 41, was selected as one of the United Arab Emirates’ first two astronauts in 2018, and is the first person from the Arab world to live and work on the International Space Station for a long-duration flight. He launched from Florida on the same SpaceX mission as Bowen, a 59-year-old former U.S. Navy submarine officer, along with NASA pilot Warren “Woody” Hoburg and Russian cosmonaut Andrey Fedyaev for a planned six-month expedition.

The tasks for Friday’s spacewalk included completing preparations on the space station’s power truss for the arrival of two new roll-out solar arrays on a SpaceX cargo mission in June. Bowen and Alneyadi relocated a foot restraint, routed and stowed cables, and configured multi-layer insulation around two brackets installed on a previous spacewalk to accommodate the power-generating solar panels.

The astronauts planned to retrieve an S-band antenna assembly that was replaced on a spacewalk in 2021. But the spacewalker were unable to free up an electronics box on the solar power truss associated with the S-band antenna. NASA will try again to retrieve the S-band antenna on a future spacewalk, for eventual return to Earth for refurbishment ahead of a future launch back to the space station as a spare unit.

For Alneyadi and the burgeoning UAE space program, the spacewalk Friday held special significances.

“Counting down the hours until we pass through the ISS airlock into space,” Alneyadi tweeted before the spacewalk Friday. “Wearing the spacesuit and proudly bearing the UAE flag on my arm, I will soon be undertaking the Arab world’s first spacewalk. Wish us luck!”

“After a long period of training, we are ready to take on the challenge and create a new milestone for our mission,” Alneyadi tweeted.

Astronauts Steve Bowen and Sultan Alneyadi (lower left) work outside the International Space Station on a spacewalk April 28. Credit: NASA

Bowen and Alneyadi returned to the Quest airlock and began repressurizing it at 4:12 p.m. EDT (2012 UTC), marking the official conclusion of the 7-hour, 1-minute spacewalk.

The excursion was the 261st spacewalk in support of International Space Station assembly and maintenance, and the fourth spacewalk outside the station so far this year. Two Russian spacewalks are planned next month to continue outfitting of the Nauka lab module, the newest pressurized element of the space station which arrived at the complex in 2021.

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Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.