The day Sheikh Zayed met three American astronauts in Abu Dhabi

The meeting in 1976 provides an early glimpse of the country's future space ambitions

An image from the Itihad archive. Courtesy Al Itihad.
Abu Dhabi, UAE. 1976. Sheikh Zayed meeting with Astronauts from the United States.
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Abu Dhabi, 1976. The UAE was just five years old but Sheikh Zayed was already looking to the stars.

In February that year, the Founding President held a memorable gathering with Apollo 17 astronauts - Gene Cernan, Ronald Evans and Harrison Schmitt - in the capital.

The meeting was brokered by American-Egyptian Nasa scientist, Farouk El Baz, and Sheikh Zayed was presented with a model of the US Space Shuttle, which was then still five years away from its first mission. He was also presented with a tiny portion of Moon rock taken back from the mission. Apollo 17 was the final mission of the mighty Nasa programme.

A grainy black and white image that captured the meeting showed Sheikh Zayed studying the shuttle model intently.

More than three decades would pass before the UAE established its own space agency but this early meeting laid the foundation stone for Hazza Al Mansouri's date with destiny on Wednesday.

“The UAE space programme has its roots in the time of Sheikh Zayed,” said the agency’s director-general, Mohammed Al Ahbabi.

"We use this image to reflect that our space programme is not something that has just happened like this. There have been preparations.”