MANAMA-The United Arab Emirates (UAE) Space Agency will continue selecting candidates as it aims to create a national astronaut team to send astronauts to orbit annually, Mohammed Ahbabi, the director general of the agency, said in an interview with Sputnik.

“The UAE has a long-term space exploration program. We can train astronauts, and they will be sent to orbit annually. We plan to select two more astronauts in addition to the four astronauts that we have already selected, so that we have our own astronaut team, like major global space agencies have,” Ahbabi said.

He went on to say that during a national selection, nine people had been selected out of 4,000 candidates and included in a so-called “short list.”

“Some of the people included in this list can be selected to take part in other space flights,” Ahbabi specified.

The director also said that there were currently no plans for the first UAE astronaut at the International Space Station (ISS) to do a spacewalk, however, it could happen in some distant future. “No, there are no such plans [for going into outer space]. Of course, astronauts do spacewalks from the ISS, it is possible, but for now we are sending the first astronaut [to the ISS]. Perhaps in the distant future,” the director said. Ahbabi also noted that the United Arab Emirates was currently preparing its astronaut for a short, 10-day stay on the ISS — launching a longer mission would depend on certain conditions.

“When a long-duration expedition of the UAE astronaut will take place depends on the development of world astronautics, of the means of delivering them to orbit. We approach the implementation of our space program very carefully, gradually, and we are calculating our abilities to implement projects,” the director said.

In July, nine UAE candidates arrived in Russia for medical tests and simulation training before returning to the UAE. In September, two of the candidates, Hazza Mansouri and Sultan Niyadi, proceeded with their training in the Moscow Region.

In April 2019, one of them will take part in a flight to the International Space Station (ISS), set to become the first ever UAE astronaut ISS flight.

A source in Russia’s state space corporation Roscosmos told Sputnik in April that the two sides were also considering organizing an up to a month-long ISS mission for the UAE astronaut.