UAE astronauts eye Moon and Mars missions ahead of space journey

The UAE's first astronaut is counting down the days until he boards the International Space Station later this month

The UAE's first astronaut has vowed to blast off into space "without fear" as hopes grow that it will be the first of many missions for the country.

Hazza Al Mansouri, 35, will soar into the skies inside a Soyuz MS-15 craft on September 25, on a momentous journey to the International Space Station.

Maj Al Mansouri and fellow Emirati Sultan Al Neyadi, reserve astronaut for the voyage, are ready for lift-off after completing a gruelling series of final tests at the Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Centre at the weekend to prepare them for the unique challenges to come.

Mr Al Neyadi believes it is just the beginning of the Emirates' ambitions, which he hopes one day will involve the country landing a man on the Moon and venturing to Mars.

The pair now have plenty of time to ponder what awaits them, as they get set to go into quarantine two weeks before the mission date, but Maj Al Mansouri is brimming with anticipation.

"I am a pilot, an F-16 pilot," Maj Al Mansouri told The National during an interview conducted deep in the Russian forest, two hours outside of Moscow.

“I have learned that risk is everywhere and it’s every day. So if you prepare for it and are ready for it and you understand it more, you will be going without any fear.”

Maj Al Mansouri will be part of the primary crew for the trip aboard ISS, joining Nasa astronaut Jessica Meir and Russian commander Oleg Skripochka.

Sultan Al Nayedi, 38, is among the back-up team - rearing to go if needed - and he is delighted to be part of a milestone moment in the story of UAE's space exploration, and hopes it is just the opening chapter.

“Our mission patch says UAE Mission One. “It’s an indication there will be a continuation,” he said.

“The UAE programme is one that is meant to stay. It is a programme that is sustainable and we are looking forward to sending more humans to space in the near future.”

Mr Al Neyadi is eager to play a pivotal role in future missions but is delighted to throw his full support behind his compatriot, Maj Al Mansouri.

“I am more excited for Hazza than Hazza is for himself,” he said.

Maj Al Mansouri, for his part, is well aware of just how significant his first steps aboard the ISS will be for his countrymen.

“I’m excited and thrilled as the day is coming closer to the launch itself,” he said.

“I’m proud to represent my country and the entire Arab region in this mission.

“I will go to the International Space Station and one of the things I will do first is go to the Cupola,” he said, describing the observatory module on the space station.

“It is like a 360 degree window. From there you can see the whole of the Earth. One of the things I want to see, is to look at Earth from there to have this feeling that humans are without any borders.”

Mr Al Neyadi is convinced this is just the first small step for the UAE's space programme, with giant leaps forward still to come.

“Sending the first astronaut to space, I think, is the first step towards achieving longer flights and probably one day landing someone on the Moon,” he said.

“And probably having an international co-operation towards sending someone to Mars in the future. It’s a really exciting time and that’s why the UAE is going in this direction.”