In the exacting, life-or-death business of space travel, nothing is left to chance. But such is the dedication and readiness of astronauts Hazza Al Mansouri and Sultan Saif Al Neyadi that deciding which of them should carry the UAE flag into space could come right down to the wire. Yesterday fighter pilot Mr Al Mansouri and Mr Al Neyadi, a scientist, spoke publicly for the first time about their extraordinary joint commitment to become the first Emirati in space. Chosen after a rigorous selection process from among 4,022 volunteers, both men have undergone extremely tough training at Star City in Russia, knowing all along that only one of them will travel to the International Space Station in September. Exactly what sort of men are carrying the weight of the UAE's ambitions upon their shoulders quickly became apparent. They spoke not of individual aspiration but of "our" passion and "our" dreams. Then they were asked if they knew yet which of them would be going into space. Unhesitatingly, Mr Al Mansouri replied: "The flag will go."
Both men have long understood that for every Neil Armstrong, there will be a Buzz Aldrin. But they have set aside personal pride and laid their lives on the line in the national interest. Whoever takes off in the Soyuz rocket on September 25, both are already heroes in whose footsteps others will surely follow. It will be the first but not the last time Emiratis will travel into space. With plans to launch an exploration probe to Mars to mark the nation's 50th anniversary in 2021, the UAE Space Agency intends to establish the first human colony on Mars by 2117. Whichever man is chosen to take the historic first step into space, he will be limited to carrying with him just 1.5kg of personal belongings to remind him of home. The thoughts and prayers of the nation that he will carry in his heart will weigh nothing but they will count for everything.