The big news from the International Space Station this week is that astronauts will soon be able to bake cookies in space. As exciting as that will be for the astronauts, another much more significant milestone took place recently; the arrival in space of the first astronaut from the UAE!
Hazza Al Mansouri went to where no Emirati had gone before, launching aboard the Soyuz MS-15 spacecraft to the International Space Station (ISS) on September 25, 2019. He was accompanied by Russia’s Oleg Skripochka and NASA astronaut Jessica Meir
After a series of interviews and medical and psychological tests Al Mansouri and alternate Sultan Al Neyadi were chosen from a pool of 4,022 applicants to represent the UAE in space. They began rigorous training at the Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Centre (GCTC) in Moscow. This included learning the Russian language, essential for operating the controls within the Soyuz spacecraft and speaking to the captain. From there they flew to the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan to prepare for the 15-day isolation phase before the launch date. Dr Hanan Al Suwaidi, the Emirati flight surgeon assigned to the mission, was responsible for maintaining the health of the astronauts during the two-week pre-launch isolation period and monitored the health conditions of Al Mansouri while in space and after his return.
On launch day, in Dubai a cheering crowd gathered at the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre to watch. The Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest skyscraper, lit up on the moment of blast-off.
Some of the items Al Mansouri took into space were: Emirati food, a UAE flag, 30 seeds of Al Ghaf trees, personal belongings including pictures of his family, a Quran, and a photo of Shaikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan with the Apollo 17 crew. He spent his eight day stay conducting a series of experiments, mostly having to do with the effects of gravity on the human body. Some of these his did on himself, to shed new light on Arab genetics. He also made five video calls to answer questions from the UAE public while in space.
Upon his return, he was given a hero’s welcome. His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, received both astronauts as they landed in Abu Dhabi. The airport was decorated with massive photographs of them and of the Soyuz rocket which took Al Mansouri to space. A series of postage stamps commemorating the UAE Astronaut Program were issued, as well as a commemorative coin honoring Al Mansouri.
Military planes painted the skies in the UAE flag colors as Al Mansouri and his team stepped out of the presidential flight. Dressed in an astronaut blue jumpsuit with the UAE flag around his neck, he stepped out of the flight amid cheers from those gathered there, including his family. He presented the Abu Dhabi Crown Prince with the UAE flag he had taken to space. Local artists performed a traditional folk music and dance show for the two astronauts.
Al Mansouri’s recent appearance at the Young Professionals in Space event at the Dubai World Trade Center was his first official public appearance since his return in October.
“What happened with Neil Armstrong, Apollo 11 and Russia is what we want to see in the UAE,” he was quoted as saying.
“It is already happening here. The launch sparked something in the souls of kids, not just here but across the whole Arab region.
“I believe they are already inspired and will follow their dreams and do something great.”
Joan Thompson, Expo Sales Executive
Ya’lla Tours USA
Posted on November 4, 2019