Bouncing around the International Space Station, Hazza Al Mansouri had a room of pupils in the UAE captivated on Sunday, their eyes widening at the prospect of potentially following in his footsteps one day.
The UAE flag hung behind him, Maj Al Mansouri answered questions from schoolchildren who had gathered at Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre to ask him about his experience during the second live Q&A session since he arrived in space last week.
The pupils cheered as he did a somersault, demonstrating the effects of weightlessness on board the station.
Almost half way through his mission, Maj Al Mansouri described the scientific experiments he had carried out — such as one to study bone condition, body composition and the endocrine system in space flight.
When asked who encouraged him to become an astronaut, Maj Al Mansouri said it was his parents.
“From a young age they would tell me ‘Hazza, you can achieve any of your ambitions if you are steadfast in your studies and work hard."
“Then my schoolteachers encouraged me and I completed my dream today I am here.
“Life gives you opportunities but you have to be prepared to seize them and work hard,” he said.
Noora Al Kaabi, a hard of hearing Emirati pupil from Mizhar American Academy in Dubai, used a translator to ask what the temperature of the ISS (a cool 22C, Maj Al Mansouri said).
"I also wanted to ask him if deaf people can be astronauts in the future," Noora, 12, told The National.
“I was excited to see an astronaut in space and I hope we will soon have our first female Emirati astronaut.”
She said he had inspired children to study science and learn about outer space.
She was not the only girl with aspirations of becoming the first Emirati woman in space. Shahad Mohammed, an Emirati grade 10 pupil at Umm Al Quwain School, said she hoped to one day cross the 100km Karmen line.
"Knowing more about space will encourage more people to learn about it. We got a lot of good information through this live call," she said.
"Earlier I was not interested in learning about space, but now I am. It is something I can explore."
Children from schools across the country made their way to the space centre on Sunday to ask Maj Al Mansouri about his daily life on-board the ISS.
When asked what he did with his spare time, the astronaut said he did not have much of it.
“My schedule is very busy and I use my time for knowledge but if I have some spare time I read my favourite books, among them ‘My Story’ by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid,” he said, floating the Vice President and Ruler of Dubai’s autobiography in front of him.
Abdullah Al Nasser from Rashid Al Saleh Private School in Dubai asked how he was able to communicate with his family.
Maj Al Mansouri said he could speak to them directly over the phone, later adding that his children often asked if he was eating and sleeping well.
“My children are very happy and when I talk to them they feel proud. I do my best to answer all their questions,” he said.
Prior to the session, Maj Al Mansouri conducted an experiment with Russian cosmonaut Oleg Skripochka when he weighed his body mass to study the changes in atmosphere had on it.
He later explained to a curious pupil that doing experiments at the ISS gives more accurate results than on Earth because gravity is less of a factor.
“This is the first time I have seen an astronaut in space,” said Min Thuta, a pupil at The Winchester School in Jebel Ali.
“I think it is really inspiring that Hazza Al Mansouri is the first Emirati to go to space," the 12-year-old from Myanmar said.
“We can do anything if we believe in it. Major Al Mansouri is a great role model for anyone who wants to achieve their dreams no matter what they want to do.”
Mir Faraz, a nine-year-old Indian pupil at The Winchester School, said he enjoyed the live session and watching peers pose questions to the astronaut.
"All the questions were scientific and the answers were detailed. I wanted to ask him how he got the courage to believe in his dreams," said Mir.
“Seeing him encourages us to study science," he said.
During the call, Maj Al Mansouri selected the winners of the Send to Space competition, for which children had submitted drawings and artwork.
The astronaut selected the best pieces, read their names and showed their drawings, leaving them hanging in the air as the crowds as people cheered.
Another live session with Maj Al Mansouri is scheduled for 4.14pm on Monday.