Hazza Al Mansouri has opened up about life back on Earth in his first public appearance since his history-making space mission.
During an event held to promote the UAE's burgeoning space industry at Dubai World Trade Centre, he told of the shock of being mobbed by adoring fans and his nervous final moments before blasting off in a rocket bound for the International Space Station.
The UAE's first astronaut also shared his hopes for an era of sustained progress to rival the milestone achievement of putting the first man on the Moon in the 1960s.
His appearance at the Young Professionals in Space event was his first chance to share his experiences on board the ISS with the public since his return in October.
“What happened with Neil Armstrong, Apollo 11 and Russia is what we want to see in the UAE,” he said.
“It is already happening here. The launch sparked something in the souls of kids, not just here but across the whole Arab region.
“I believe they are already inspired and will follow their dreams and do something great.”
Maj Al Mansouri etched his name in the record books when he spent eight days aboard the ISS, becoming the first Emirati to travel to space.
His achievement has already seen him become an hero to many, not just in the UAE, but for Arabs all over the world.
He spoke about how his journey into space had captured the imagination of younger generations.
“The first time I went to mosque, after returning, I met a couple of kids who asked me about the space mission,” he said.
“The next day I went back and was shocked by the crowds of children there waiting for me and I spent an hour explaining it all to them.”
A recent trip to Masdar Park, Abu Dhabi, with his family soon led to a crowd converging on its new hero.
“Some of the kids there recognised me and I spent two hours answering all their questions,” he said.
“My wife joked ‘that’s it, we’re not going out anymore’.”
That said, the response from the public has delighted Maj Al Mansouri.
“My mission after the first eight days in space was to inspire the next generation,” he said.
He also spoke about the anxiety his dream would never come true.
“There were a lot of challenges, if the launch was even two minutes late then it would have meant we would have to be in orbit for two days before docking at the ISS,” he said.
“The slightest delay could have a serious impact on morale and schedules. Some astronauts end up waiting for up to 10-15 years before completing their first mission.
“Even when I was going up the elevator to the rocket I was saying to myself ‘please God let this rocket work’.”
He said being on board the ISS opened his eyes as to what was possible if people put their differences aside.
“Working in space allows you to see people, from different backgrounds, working towards one common goal,” he said.
Another challenge that Maj Al Mansouri had to overcome was the language barrier.
He had to learn to speak Russian for the mission, along with fellow Emirati Sultan Al Neyadi, who was waiting in the wings on standby for the mission.
“If there were any problems I had to speak to the commander in Russian.
“I was responsible to shut down the systems in the event of a fire and press ventilation switches, but all the signs were in Russian.”
He concluded by stating his desire to return to space.
Mr Al Neyadi was also present at the event where he spoke about the importance of the UAE’s ongoing space mission.
“As a nation we want to encourage as many people as possible to engage in science,” he said.
“Hopefully we can spread the enthusiasm to help drive an innovation based economy for the country with future missions.”
While he was not selected for the historic flight, Dr Al Neyadi had to undergo the same rigorous training regime as Maj Al Mansouri.
“I applied without hesitation to be selected for the mission because it was my childhood dream,” said the engineer.
“The training was a challenge, not only to go to a new country, but to adapt to a different environment and atmosphere.
“We worked as a team and gained a lot we can share with the youngsters of the UAE and the Arab region. This is only the beginning and we are looking forward to more opportunities in the future.”