TUM PhD student the first Egyptian astronaut candidate
Akram Abdellatif reaches for the stars
Becoming an astronaut is not exactly conventional in Egypt, to put it mildly. Egypt does not have a space agency. To be an astronaut with NASA you have be citizen of the United States.
To start with, Abdellatif in fact pursued a "normal" career as a communications engineer, completing his bachelor degree at the German University in Cairo. He then moved to Stuttgart for his master studies in 2009.
At the same time, Abdellatif applied to several European aerospace companies. Initially without success, as he was not sufficiently qualified. His breakthrough finally came with the German Aerospace Center (DLR) in Stuttgart – though just as an intern at first. After his Master of Science in Communication Engineering and Media Technology, he transferred to TUM to study for his Master in Earth-Oriented Space Science and Technology. Since 2011, Abdellatif has also been working as a development engineer at the DLR in Oberpfaffenhofen. Alongside this, he is writing his doctoral thesis, supervised by TUM’s Institute of Flight System Dynamics.
Outside of his studies, Abdellatif is pursuing a raft of other activities to bring him closer to his goal. "I made sure I knew what qualifications I would need as an astronaut," he explains. "Egyptian nationality makes it more challengeing. So everything else has to be just right." As part of this, he joined the non-profit organization Astronauts 4 Hire, which trains motivated individuals for trips to space – nationality not a factor.
Abdellatif has also taken flying lessons, completed his diving license – everything surrounding basic astronaut training. "Over weekends and on holiday: I’m always working on myself," he says. His wife, who he met in Egypt, is by his side throughout. "She told me we will realize my dream together." Abdellatif now lives with his wife and their young son in Munich, with holidays spent in Egypt – diving trips to the Red Sea included. He also has the support of his family back home, emphasizing: "I couldn’t do all this without that help."
Abdellatif already took a significant stride towards space in 2014, together with Hanaa Gaber, also from TUM. Their joint project, Egypt Against Hepatitis C Virus, won the US-based International Space Station (ISS) Research Competition. This meant the ISS crew performed experiments for the scientists’ project free of charge on the space station. The aim was to crystallize two proteins of the hepatitis C virus (HCV) under microgravity conditions.
Now, Abdellatif has taken another major leap towards his goal by qualifying for the PoSSUM program. This scientific mission is supported by NASA to advance climate research. The first of four training modules begins next week in Florida. Once these are completed, Abdellatif hopes to be selected as quickly as possible for one of the missions starting in 2017.
That view of Earth from way above is something Akram has spent years working towards. "The mission will involve a huge amount of work for me. But I definitely mustn’t forget to enjoy the moment once I’m up there!"