Emirati astronaut: UAE gears up for live Q&A and station tour after captivating launch

Hazza Al Mansouri is expected to draw a huge audience for his broadcast

A Nasa livestream captures the moment Maj Al Mansouri enters the zero-gravity station and embraces his fellow crewmates. Courtesy: Nasa
A Nasa livestream captures the moment Maj Al Mansouri enters the zero-gravity station and embraces his fellow crewmates. Courtesy: Nasa

The first UAE astronaut to board the International Space Station is gearing up for live broadcasts to capture the imagination of young people across the Arabic-speaking world.

After a launch that captivated the Emirates and made headlines abroad, Hazza Al Mansouri will host a series of discussions from 1pm on Friday. His live tour of the station in Arabic on Sunday is expected to be the highlight of his eight-day mission.

Soyuz MS-15 docked at the International Space Station at 11.42pm UAE time on Wednesday and after exhaustive checks the hatches opened at about 2.20am on Thursday.

For the first time, we can hear an astronaut on the ISS speaking our language, without translation

Thabet Al Qaissieh, Al Sadeem Observatory Abu Dhabi

Oleg Skripochka, Jessica Meir and Maj Al Mansouri floated through the airlock one by one to the warm embrace of station commander Alexey Ovchinin and the rest of the six current crew.

"We are grateful to have reached the ISS and ilhamdillah everything is good," Maj Al Mansouri said in a message to ground control in Arabic.

"The Earth is beautiful from this place. It is small but I can see a small part of it.

"God protect you. Send my regards to the people of the UAE."

Dr Ahmad Al Falasi, chairman of the UAE Space Agency, replied to Maj Al Mansouri from Baikonur Cosmodrome, where the Soyuz rocket launched from at 5.57pm UAE time.

"Hazza, this is Ahmad Al Falasi, we send you greetings from all the people here in Baikonur and in the UAE," said Dr Al Falasi, also Minister of State for Higher Education.

"The way you can see the Earth completely, all Emiratis can you see completely. You have raised our heads high, congratulations."

The astronauts on board the station will now spend time getting used to their surroundings as well as carrying out a number of scheduled research projects.

Maj Al Mansouri will spend time on Thursday on a series of science experiments and is due to take a short radio call with Earth shortly before midnight.

He will leave ISS and head back to earth along with commander Ovchinin and Nasa's Nick Hague next Thursday.

About 400km below the orbiting station, the huge buzz the mission has generated in the UAE showed little sign of waning following the previous evening's launch.

The Abu Dhabi government played a public announcement on loudspeakers at mosques and in public buildings at 11.30am.

The message,which was broadcast in both Arabic and English, said: “The UAE leadership congratulates citizens and residents for sending the first Emirati astronaut to the International Space station.

“It is a huge achievement that highlights the strong determination of the Emiratis in the service of their country. May God protect the UAE and its loyal people.”

School pupils, college students, dignitaries and members of the public will be at the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre on Friday at 1pm afternoon to watch Maj Al Mansouri's first live call from the space station.

The 20-minute-long live call will see the astronaut answer questions for the 800 people who are expected to attend.

The questions have already been sent to him from people via the twitter campaign #AskHazzaa.

Thabet Al Qaissieh, an Emirati astronomer who runs Al Sadeem observatory in Al Wathba, hopes the mission will pique young people's interest in science.

"It is very significant on all levels, for children and parents. For the first time, we can hear an astronaut on the ISS speaking our language, without translation," he said.

"Another very significant visual is seeing UAE flag up on the ISS, which represents nations that have been on the ISS.

"Some of the visitors I’ve met at the observatory have this idea that space exploration is not rewarding “because how will we benefit?”

"So to see Hazza floating in zero gravity is the best answer to sceptical parents. And it is the best motivator for kids to pursue a career in anything related to space."

For Reem Alhashmi, 19, an aerospace engineering student at Khalifa University in Abu Dhabi, seeing Maj Al Mansouri in space only bolstered her decision to pursue her degree.

“All of us as a nation are very proud. He’s truly opened a door for all of us, especially students like me who are very excited to start giving back to our country within this field," she said.

Sultan Al Sarrah, 20, an aerospace engineering student at Queen’s University Belfast, completed an internship at Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre earlier this year.

"We all look up to him and hope that we can add to his achievements," he said.

Additional reporting by Muna Alkhateeb

Updated: September 27, 2019 01:01 PM


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