Emirati astronaut Sultan Al Neyadi will clamber through the hatch of the International Space Station on Friday after a rocket blast-off that enthralled the Arab world.
The SpaceX Dragon capsule is due to dock at 10.17am UAE time following a 24-hour journey to deliver four astronauts to their new home for six months.
After checks are completed, they will be welcomed by the existing crew of seven shortly before midday — and begin their tour of duty 400km above Earth.
On Thursday, the Falcon 9 rocket carrying their detachable spacecraft took off right on time after a last-minute postponement on Monday.
“Thank God, we made it to space. The launch was incredible,” father-of-five Dr Al Neyadi, 41, said in a message broadcast back to Earth.
Dr Al Neyadi is the second Emirati to travel into space, following Hazza Al Mansouri's eight-day stay on the ISS in 2019.
“I would like to say thanks to everybody, my parents, my family, our leadership, the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre for their trust and everyone who trained us got us ready for this launch,” he said.
“The launch was incredible. And, lastly, thanks to Nasa and SpaceX. Go Dragon and go SpaceX.”
President Sheikh Mohamed said the communications engineer was a source of “great pride”.
“I join the nation in congratulating Sultan Al Neyadi as he begins his pioneering mission aboard the International Space Station”, Sheikh Mohamed said.
“His inspiring achievement is a source of great pride to the UAE and another milestone in the journey of our nation and the ambitions of our people.”
Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, said Dr Al Neyadi was a true “son of the Emirates”.
Dr Al Neyadi carried a stuffed toy, named Suhail, as the zero-gravity indicator on to the capsule.
“And allow me to introduce you to the fifth crew member. His name is Suhail,” Dr Al Neyadi said in his message shortly after take-off.
“This is the second flight for Suhail because it flew with Hazza Al Mansouri in 2019. Many people think Suhail is an alien but to me, he is from Earth, in a spacesuit — with high ambitions.
“Thank you once again and talk to you from the ISS.”
The Crew-6 astronauts made it to space during a second launch attempt by Space and Nasa, after the first one on February 27 failed owning to a technical issue on the rocket.
Farewell to loved ones
Dr Al Neyadi had bid a public farewell to his children during the first launch attempt, after appearing from the crew quarters in his SpaceX pressure suit.
He waved to his sons and daughter before boarding a Tesla, which took him to the launch pad.
Dr Al Neyadi's father, Saif Al Neyadi, and his brothers and cousins were also in Florida to watch the launch.
They met with him several days before the launch, but had to keep their distance, as he had to remain in isolation.
Dr Al Neyadi will be carrying out 19 science experiments for various UAE universities and will be taking part in more than 200 experiments assigned by Nasa.
He will also be doing maintenance work on the ISS, including a possible spacewalk.
One of the experiments involves studying heart cells in microgravity and being able to watch the tissue ‘beating in space’.
“This is something like a cutting edge technology that one day, when we start 3D printing organs, this is really important to see how the structure is built in microgravity,” Dr Al Neyadi said when he arrived in Florida.
“So this can give us a really good insight how these tissues are built.”
Sarah Al Amiri, Minister of State for Public Education and Advanced Technology, said on Twitter: “We have determination and will to expand the boundaries of knowledge and develop space technology stemming from the belief of the United Arab Emirates in the importance of space exploration.
“We are proud of the progress made by the Emirati astronauts in this historic and exceptional mission, and we eagerly await their arrival and learn about the developments of their journey.”
The trip to space for Dr Al Neyadi comes after five years of rigorous training around the world.
He was the first of two astronauts chosen by the UAE in 2018, alongside Hazza Al Mansouri, who became the first Emirati in space the following year.
Dr Al Neyadi has trained in Russia, parts of Europe, Canada and completed Nasa’s basic training programme in Houston and did mission-specific training for this trip.
He has learnt to speak Russian, spent hours daily in space simulators to familiarise his body with the effects of microgravity, trained to fly supersonic jets and completed spacewalk training.