UAE astronaut Sultan Al Neyadi was overjoyed after receiving a surprise call from his father on Thursday.
Dr Al Neyadi has been serving the Arab world’s longest mission in space since March and is due to return in a few weeks.
His father, Saif Al Neyadi, spoke to him briefly during a live call the astronaut held from the International Space Station, with space enthusiasts gathered at Louvre Abu Dhabi.
The call was part of Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre's 'A Call from Space' initiative, which has been attended by nearly 10,000 people so far.
“Hello, Sultan. I’m very happy with this call,” Saif Al Neyadi said.
“I’m attending the first call because of some circumstances but your family are all proud of you and I wish you the best of luck.
“We pray that you come home safely with your head held high and your flag held even higher.”
Dr Al Neyadi was excited to hear his father's voice.
He had attended Dr Al Neyadi's launch in Florida and had written a heartfelt poem for him before he blasted off into space.
However, communication between the two has been limited since Dr Al Neyadi's arrived in space owing to his jam-packed schedule.
“This is a beautiful surprise. I hope you and everyone at home are doing well,” Dr Al Neyadi said.
Although contact with his parents has been limited, the father of six has been holding calls with his wife and children.
He said during his birthday in May that he missed his mother's cooking.
Creating opportunities for others
Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak, Minister of Tolerance and Coexistence, also attended the live call.
He told Dr Al Neyadi that his mission will help create opportunities for the youth.
“We are very proud of you that you are the man with the longest mission in Arab history,” he said.
“Your name has become very well known. There's no doubt that your experience will create new opportunities for youth and create interest in science, technologies and the world of exploration.”
Pupils asked the astronaut some questions, including one on whether there could be an Arab space station one day.
Dr Al Neyadi replied that the UAE could get involved in the Lunar Gateway – a small station that Nasa and its international partners are planning to build in the Moon's orbit.
“The UAE might play a role in the Gateway. Anything is possible,” he said.
The National previously reported that the UAE was exploring ways becoming involved, particularly in contributing an airlock on the station.
If the Emirates does secure a deal, it could help the country's space programme take giant leaps, including easier access for Emirati astronauts on future flights to the Moon.
One pupil asked Dr Al Neyadi how he would get his immunity levels back to normal once he returns from space.
“On the ISS, we are exposed to doses of X-rays,” he said.
“We are exposed to radiation 10 times more. We have a device that measures the radiation so we don’t exceed a certain limit.”
Another pupil asked him if his perspective of outer space had changed since arriving at the station.
Dr Al Neyadi said that he has started to appreciate Earth and its nature more.
“Oxygen on Earth is free. Sunlight and everything are taken for granted, but on the ISS we have to continuously recycle these resources, so the new definition I have after coming here is that we have to preserve the environment,” he said.
One audience member asked him if he could take a person with him to space, who it would be, but Dr Al Neyadi was tight-lipped to not upset anyone.
“I wish everyone would try this. I can't pick a name now, so no one gets angry with me,” he said.