First Emirati in space carries nation's hopes

Emirati astronaut Hazza Al Mansouri waves before boarding a Soyuz rocket to the International Space Station. EPA
Emirati astronaut Hazza Al Mansouri waves before boarding a Soyuz rocket to the International Space Station. EPA

At 5.57pm on Wednesday, as a nation waited with bated breath, the UAE made history by sending its first astronaut rocketing into space. Thousands of people all over the country gathered to watch the countdown on television, smartphones and computer screens as Emirati Hazza Al Mansouri blasted into the record books, speeding away from Earth at more than 28,000 kilometres per hour aboard a Soyuz MS-15 that carried him from a base in Kazakhstan to the International Space Station. In that moment, Maj Al Mansouri embodied the hopes of a progressive nation, showing what can be achieved when there is collective will and determination.

It was fitting, then, that as Maj Al Mansouri arrived at the ISS, a UAE flag and a picture of Sheikh Zayed in hand, his first thoughts were for his home country. As he said before take-off, his space mission proved nothing was impossible if it could be imagined. The hopes and dreams of an entire country carried him aloft, from the UAE’s leaders, to his four children, to those who clustered around screens to watch history being made. Among them was Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, who stopped mid-bike ride across the desert to watch his ascent on his phone. “Hazza Al Mansouri’s entry to space sends a message to Arab youth that we can march forward, that we can keep pace with the rest of the world,” he tweeted. Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, wrote on Twitter: “This event strengthens our confidence in our youth, who will take our nation to new heights and reinforces our ambitions for the future.”

It was the culmination of a two-year vision, when thousands of would-be astronauts first applied to join the mission, whittled down over months and a series of tough tests to just one. What is even more remarkable is that just a few years ago, the UAE did not have any trained astronauts. This week, the nation took a leap into the future and led the way for other countries to follow, with Maj Al Mansouri the first Arab to join any crew on the International Space Station.

Maj Al Mansouri’s feat has sown the seeds of aspiration and hope in a young generation, many of whom gathered at the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre in Dubai with their families, waving flags and cheering their new hero. It will inspire others to join the UAE’s ambitious space programme, which has only just begun taking unprecedented steps in testing the limit of scientific discovery. Among its future plans are the launch of the Hope probe to Mars in two years’ time and the first human colony on the Red Planet by 2117.

It is such leaps of faith that have pushed humanity to delve the unexplored realms of science and knowledge, in search of answers to humankind’s age-old questions about the universe and our place among the stars. Maj Al Mansouri has made his nation proud and his achievement will inspire a generation of Emiratis to take a similarly bold leap of faith into new territory.

Updated: September 26, 2019 09:45 PM


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