A new 'golden era' of Arab space exploration

Hazza Al Mansouri has paved the way for more aspiring astronauts to emerge from the UAE

United Arab Emirates' astronaut Hazzaa al-Mansoori  raises his fist from a bus before boarding a Soyuz rocket to the International Space Station (ISS) at the Russian-leased Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on September 25, 2019.  / AFP / VYACHESLAV OSELEDKO
Beta V.1.0 - Powered by automated translation

When Hazza Al Mansouri touched down in Kazakhstan at 3pm on Thursday, the impact of the eight-day expedition making him the first astronaut from the UAE to journey into space was already being felt by millions of fellow Emiratis, as well as non-Emiratis living in the country. His mission marked the realisation of an ambition that has its roots planted in humankind's first exploration of space and worlds beyond our own when Yuri Gagarin and Neil Armstrong made important breakthroughs more than half a century ago. What's more, it is bound to raise the UAE's profile in the global community as an ambitious and progressive nation.

Maj Al Mansouri arrived at the International Space Station on September 25, bearing the national flag and a picture of Sheikh Zayed, the Founding Father. In essence, though, he was carrying the hopes of a nation determined not just to leave its mark in a rapidly changing world, but also in space. This was evident from the visuals coming out of the ISS, as well as the UAE, during the past week. A picture may well be worth a thousand words but it also has the power and potency to move millions of its beholders. And Maj Al Mansouri made his compatriots proud by sharing images of the Emirates from his point of view, swapping his spacesuit for the kandura and hosting a traditional food night with his crew mates. Even as good work is being done by other Emiratis, such as researcher Ibrahim Ahmad at US space agency Nasa, the photos being beamed out of the ISS gave us a visual representation of the progress the UAE has made in the field of space exploration – remarkable for a country that came into being 48 years ago. As Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, told Maj Al Mansouri: "We are amongst the stars and you are the first and we always remember the first. But we will have caravans of Emirati astronauts who will go to space and will pass through the same process that you have passed through."  Maj Al Mansouri himself spoke of bringing back a "golden era of Arab astronauts" shortly before he was due to leave the ISS.

While lifting the national mood, this mission will have its most profound effect on the young hearts and minds of today. Children at the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre watched the live broadcast of Maj Al Mansouri's lift-off dressed up in spacesuits with tags that read 'Future Astronaut'. Maj Al Mansouri dedicated time to interact with Emirati schoolchildren from the ISS, imparting knowledge and inspiring them by sharing his life story and driving home the message that nothing is impossible if it could be imagined. Judging by the way students clapped and cheered as he appeared on screen from the space station and watching some of the videos being shared on social media of young children speaking admiringly about their new hero, it is no longer a question of if, but when, the next Maj Al Mansouri comes along. As one of them said: "Now children know that is it is possible for them to be an astronaut, they will think of this as an option."