Home Diplomatic Spotlight US partnership helps UAE achieve soaring success in space

US partnership helps UAE achieve soaring success in space

US partnership helps UAE achieve soaring success in space
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifts off on March 2, 2023, carrying crewmembers, including UAE astronaut Sultan Al Neyadi, NASA astronauts Stephen Bowen and Woody Hoburg, and cosmonaut Andrey Fedyaev to the International Space Station. (NASA)

The United Arab Emirates’ space program has come a long way in a relatively short time, and last month, Emirati and U.S. officials celebrated the partnership and cooperation that have helped the UAE to accomplish all it has in space.

In the 10 years since the UAE Space Agency was launched, the young nation has established the first astronaut program in the Arab world; launched a made-in-the-UAE satellite; sent two astronauts to the International Space Station; become the first Arab nation and fifth country globally to reach Mars, joined an international project to establish a longterm human presence on the Moon, as a springboard for missions to Mars; and signed an agreement that seeks to ensure that space exploration and development are done sustainably and for peaceful purposes.

And days before the March 8 event, two Emirati astronauts—the first Emirati female astronaut Nora Al Matrooshi and Mohammad Al Mulla—graduated from astronaut training at Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.

Much of the UAE’s success in space is tied to its partnership with the United States. Emirati astronaut Sultan Saif Al Neyadi said at an event held at the Four Seasons Hotel in Washington last month that it was a “testament to humanity’s potential when united in a common purpose.”

“Together, we have embarked on a transformative journey that transcends boundaries, driving forward a new era of discovery and innovation,” he said at the March 8 event hosted by UAE Ambassador to the United States Yousef Al Otaiba.

UAE astronaut Sultan Al Neyadi, NASA astronauts Frank Rubio and Stephen Bowen, UAE Ambassador to the US and Minister of State, Yousef Al Otaiba, and guests are seen during an Iftar dinner, Thursday, March 21, 2024, at the UAE Embassy in Washington. (Keegan Barber/NASA)

Later in March, Al Otaiba hosted Al Neyadi and some of his fellow crewmembers on Expedition 69 to the International Space Station for iftar, the meal taken after sundown to break the daylong fast observed by Muslims during Ramadan.

UAE firsts in space

Al Neyadi launched to the ISS in 2023 and spent six months on board. He is the first Arab astronaut to undertake a long-duration space mission and to conduct a spacewalk. He was recently named UAE Minister of State for Youth Affairs.

He was one of several officials from the UAE and the United States who took part in panel discussions and conversations at the event, where the two countries committed to continue to cooperate on matters of space exploration and scientific research.

The event followed an announcement in early January by the two countries that they will work together to support NASA’s Gateway lunar space station, an outpost orbiting the Moon that will provide support for lunar surface missions.

Gateway is “a vital component of the NASA-led Artemis missions to return to the Moon and chart a path for the first human missions to Mars,” NASA says on its website.

It’s governed by the Artemis Accords, a set of principles about space exploration that countries agree to voluntarily.

Space diplomacy

The UAE and United States were among the eight original signatories of the Artemis Accords in 2020, which call for space activities to be carried out for peaceful purposes, transparently, and in accordance with international law.

The Strategic Framework for Space Diplomacy, which the State Department released last year, calls the Artemis Accords “a centerpiece of the United States’ civil space diplomacy.” Thirty-six nations have now signed on to the Artemis Accords.

“The U.S. is proud that our partnership with the Emirates extends into the safe and responsible use of space via the Artemis Accords,” National Space Council Executive Secretary Chirag Parikh said at the Four Seasons event.

Partnerships with NASA, the Federal Aviation Administration and U.S. research institutions help to “strengthen cooperation in support of our shared vision and strategy to improve safety and security in space, expand the scope of international scientific research, and develop new technologies that contribute to improving human lives,” said Salem Butti Al Qubaisi, director general of the UAE Space Agency.

Ambassador Al Otaiba summed up the UAE-U.S. partnership in space with a twist on an old saying: “From the Gateway program to exploring Mars’ atmosphere, our two nations’ partnership continues to go from strength to strength. Not even the sky is the limit for our shared ambitions.”


Karin Zeitvogel

Karin Zeitvogel started her journalism career at the BBC World Service and has worked since then for international media outlets and organizations including Agence France-Presse, U.N. agencies, Voice of America, RIA Novosti and the National Institutes of Health. She's lived in nine countries, speaks fluent French and German, good Spanish and a smattering of other languages.