Left to right: Dmitri Petelin, Warren “Woody” Hoburg, Sultan Al Neyadi, Sergey Prokopyev CREDIT: Khalifa University

Emirati Sultan Al Neyadi and three other members of Expedition 69 recently joined a packed room of engineers, scientists and students at Khalifa University to talk about their stay aboard the International Space Station (ISS).

The astronauts fielded questions, comments and a lot of gratitude about the 200-plus experiments the team completed in microgravity for scientists who guided the processes from Earth.

Al Neyadi, the first Emirati and Arab to complete a long mission in space and a spacewalk, said it was a difficult endeavor. The engineer and now national hero felt the pressure of conducting research for scientists in space, knowing the importance of his tasks.

But first, the astronaut had to get used to the challenges of working in microgravity.

It was difficult the first few times — we have items secured to the table with Velcro but out of habit you put something on a table and it’s suddenly floating away.

He also said performing complicated tasks like inserting a needle into tissue while speaking to Earth-bound scientists over a headset was intense. “It’s an experiment that could be ruined and I don’t want to make it a failure,” he said. “But I took it slowly and methodically and by the end had mastered it with no issue.”

Experiments, according to the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Center, included fluid science and how fluids behave in microgravity; immune system research; epigenetics; and technology that may contribute to future deep-space exploration.

Al Neyadi was accompanied by crewmates NASA astronaut Warren “Woody” Hoburg, commander Sergey Prokopyev and flight engineer Sergey Prokopyev. Cosmonauts Prokopyev and Petelin were stranded on the space station for just over a year. A suspected piece of space junk damaged their return capsule three months into what was a planned six-month stay on the ISS; their 371-day tour on the ISS along with American Frank Rubio was the third-longest space mission in history.

In addition to speaking about their experiences, the astronauts visited Khalifa University labs.

The cosmonauts joked about how nice it was to see new faces when the others arrived for their half-year stay, but were serious about what the ISS represents to them. “The International Space Station is a project for all mankind and is an amazing example of international cooperation,” Prokopyev said.

CAPTION: Khalifa University panel introduction IMAGE: Khalifa University

A video of daily activities on the ISS played in the background during the panel discussion. Among the images: footage of what appeared to be an intense fitness regimen. Extended time in microgravity can result in muscle mass loss and, consequently, a reduction in bone density. Exercise mitigates health problems.

Al Neyadi says the crew exercised for two and a half hours daily. This included cardiovascular training (to keep blood pumping to the lower extremities) and resistance training. “When we returned,” he said, “we did have the muscle mass, but unfortunately we lacked the stability to exercise again on the ground and to help recover quickly after landing.”

Between scientific research projects and fitness maintenance, there was time for fun and connection.

Al Neyadi tells KUST Review that Hoburg and Prokopyev enjoyed playing chess and even 3D printed a giant piece when one team’s king floated away, never to be found again.

The crew members agreed that the biggest takeaway from the expedition is enduring friendships. “Truly, (Al Neyadi) is a brother and a life-long friend,” Hoburg said.

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