Akram Abdellatif (27) wants to go into space – and the TUM-graduate student from Egypt has to go through quite a lot in order to do so. With success: He was accepted for the research project “PoSSUM”, which is sponsored by NASA. The first training starts this week.
In Egypt, it is not exactly a common career aspiration to want to become an astronaut. The country does not have a space agency. Nobody of Egyptian nationality has ever flown into space. To be accepted by NASA or the ESA, astronaut-candidates need to be US-citizens or belong to one of the ESA’s member states.
According to Abdellatif, being able to pursue a dream although it is unusual is something that he “learned in Germany”. He has been dreaming of space since he was a child.
Job-training as an individual initiative
First, Abdellatif started off with a “normal” career as a communications engineer. He obtained his Bachelor’s degree at the German University in Cairo. For his Master’s degree, he came to Stuttgart in 2009.
Apart from that, he also applied to several aerospace companies in Europe – to no avail at first, since his qualifications were not sufficient. Then, however, he was successful at the German Aerospace Center (DLR) in Stuttgart – although, at first, only as an intern. After obtaining his Master of Science degree in “Communication Engineering and Media Technology”, he came to TUM to pursue a Master’s course in “Earth-Oriented Space Science and Technology”.
Since 2011, Abdellatif is also working as a development engineer at the DLR in Oberpfaffenhofen. During that time, he wrote his doctoral thesis under the supervision of the Institute of Flight System Dynamics at TUM. He is a member of the nonprofit organization “Astronauts 4hire”, which trains its members for space missions. The nationality is not a criterion.
Small steps towards space
Abdellatif took flying lessons and obtained a diver certification, everything that belongs to an astronaut’s basic training. “Whether on weekends or during the holidays: I am constantly working on myself,” says Abdellatif. His wife supports him. “She assured me that we will manage to make my dream come true together.”
Abdellatif lives in Munich, with his wife and their young boy. They spend their vacations in Egypt, where they go diving in the Red Sea, among other things. Abdellatif is also supported by his family at home. “Without their help, I could not manage it all,” he says.
In 2014, Abdellatif already came a little bit closer to space: With the project “Egypt Against Hepatitis C Virus”, he and Hanaa Gaber (TUM) won the US-based “International Space Station (ISS) Research Competition”. The ISS-crew performed the research experiment of the two researchers on the International Space Station, free of charge. In the experiment, two proteins of the Hepatitis C virus (HCV) were crystallized under microgravity conditions.
Qualified as an astronaut-candidate
Now, Abdellatif is another large step closer to his goal: He was able to qualify as an astronaut for the “PoSSUM”-project. The scientific mission, which focuses on climate research, is sponsored by NASA. The first of four training is to take place in Florida.
After completing the training, Abdellatif will have to hope to be selected as soon as possible to take part in one of the missions which start in 2017. For several years, the Egyptian has been working towards getting a glimpse of the world from far above. “I’ll have to work very much on the mission – but whatever I do, I mustn’t forget to enjoy the moment when I’m up there.”