UAE astronaut Hazza Al Mansouri said his historic mission was “only the beginning” for the country’s space programme.
The first Emirati in space was speaking at a press conference shortly after returning to Earth, following his eight-day stay at the International Space Station (ISS).
Maj Al Mansoori departed the ISS at 11.37am yesterday before touching down at 3.59pm in a remote section of Kazakhstan.
While his place in history was secured, he vowed that the journey would not stop there.
“This mission is only the beginning for the UAE and the Arab world,” he said, before expressing his hope that he would return many times to “fulfil the promise” made by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai.
The nation held its breath on Thursday, along with the entire region, as a capsule carrying Maj Al Mansoori left the space station and hurtled towards Earth at 17,500 km/h, before entering the planet’s atmosphere in a ball of flames.
During his stay on the ISS, he orbited the Earth 128 times in a journey of almost 5 million kilometres.
He said the UAE would not have to wait long before they had another astronaut in space.
“We are not done yet, and we will never be,” Maj Al Mansouri tweeted just before he left the ISS yesterday morning.
“With fear and pride, I am returning with Zayed’s ambition achieved.”
He also spoke about “bringing back a golden era of Arab astronauts”.
Tributes immediately poured in for the father-of-four from UAE leaders.
Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid was among the first to offer his congratulations.
“We are proud of your achievement and the knowledge and expertise we have gained through your trip,” tweeted the Vice President and Ruler of Dubai.
“We have broadened the horizons of our future generations in space.”
Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, was also fulsome in his praise for Maj Al Mansouri.
“Praise be to God for Hazza Al Mansouri's safe return to Earth after visiting the International Space Station,” he said in a tweet.
“Congratulations to the people of the UAE for this historic achievement.
“Zayed's sons will fulfil our ambition to reach Mars.”
Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed, Crown Prince of Dubai, also paid tribute to the success of Maj Al Mansoori.
“This mission was the starting point in our stride towards the future,” he tweeted.
Sheikh Hamdan added that the project’s success would ensure progress and prosperity for the people of the UAE, as well as the entire region.
Former fighter pilot Maj Al Mansouri was also the third Arab in space, and the first in more than 20 years.
While in space he carried out a number of experiments, which led to many observers predicting he would inspire a new generation of scientists.
“The success of this mission confirms our ability to turn our dreams into reality,” said Yousuf Al Shaibani, director general of Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC).
“It also proves that we are able to revive Arab civilisation, and we believe that there are no limits to the ambitions and aspirations of Emiratis.”