UAE gets ready to take a big and bold step into space

Since the foundation of the UAE Space Agency a little more than five year ago, we have been rigorously preparing for this special moment – the launch of the first Emirati astronaut into space. It is both a historic achievement and the marker of the UAE’s next phase of space exploration and scientific excellence.

On Wednesday at 5.56pm UAE time, Hazza Al Mansouri will be launched to the International Space Station (ISS), making ours the 19th country to do so and the 38th to participate in a human spaceflight mission. Mr Al Mansouri will stay on the station for an eight-day space expedition as part of the UAE Astronaut Programme.

As he departs the Earth’s atmosphere from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, Mr Al Mansouri will be propelled not only into space, but also into history – serving forever as an inspiration to all Emiratis and young people throughout the Middle East. While aboard the ISS, he will participate in five video calls with youngsters as well as the wider public. He will answer questions about his journey, life aboard the space station and the various experiments that he will be conducting.

This direct communication between Mr Al Mansouri and young Emiratis will not only motivate the next generation of space pioneers but highlight the importance of investing in space science and exploration as means to accelerating our nation’s development. It will also contribute to humanity’s efforts to address the Earth’s most pressing challenges in food security, energy efficiency, resource utilisation, and climate change.

The UAE leadership’s interest in space science dates back to the mid-1970s, when Sheikh Zayed, the Founding Father, met three Apollo 17 astronauts and declared to the entire world that there is no limit to his country's ambition. We are today one step closer to realising Sheikh Zayed’s dream of establishing the UAE as an international leader in space, humanity’s final frontier.

Mr Al Mansouri’s mission will pave the way for future generations to explore space, conduct advanced scientific experimentation and collaborate with nations from around the world to improve life on Earth. Aboard the ISS, he will conduct and monitor 16 biological, physical and geological experiments in the microgravity environment. The results of his work will then be compared with replicated experiments performed back home.

This will not only advance the UAE’s scientific and research capabilities but provide new data and materials to be incorporated into curriculums at institutions of higher education across the nation, driving the sector forward and better preparing the students of tomorrow to meet future challenges.

The experiments that he will conduct aboard the ISS include studying the effect of microgravity on the growth of cells, microorganisms and genes, seed germination rates, fungi, algae, antibiotics on bacteria, and basic chemical reactions in space. He will monitor and conduct tests on the palm seeds that were sent to the ISS in July to observe the seeds’ behaviour, their ability to absorb water in zero gravity and examine the potential for planting them in a Martian environment. He will also participate in exercises to measure time perception in microgravity.

As the first astronaut from the Arab region to participate in such research, Mr Al Mansouri will bring back enormous amounts of data and be able to share his experiences with new audiences. His findings will contribute to our long-term objective of establishing human settlements on Mars.

While being aboard the ISS, he will provide a detailed tour of the station in Arabic so that speakers of the language – from all walks of life – can experience his journey as if they were with him.

Mr Al Mansouri’s mission is a historic achievement for the UAE and the entire Arab world. There may only be two other people accompanying him in the Soyuz rocket, including Russian commander Oleg Skripochka and American astronaut Jessica Meir. But there is little doubt that he will be carrying with him the prayers and dreams of millions around the world.

Dr Ahmad Bin Abdullah Humaid Belhoul Al Falasi is Minister of State for Higher Education and Advanced Skills and chairman of the UAE Space Agency

Updated: September 24, 2019 07:50 PM

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