UAE's first astronaut returns home from Russia

Hazza Al Mansouri and backup astronaut Sultan Al Neyadi arrive in Abu Dhabi

A red carpet rolled out beneath his feet, Hazza Al Mansouri, the UAE’s first astronaut, returned to the UAE on Saturday after eight days in space and most of the year in Russia.

Maj Al Mansouri, 35, was accompanied by backup astronaut, Dr Sultan Al Neyadi, 38, who has been promised a spot on the country’s next space mission, and a team from Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre.

The pair landed at the Presidential Terminal at Abu Dhabi International Airport on a Presidential Flight at 4.40pm, to heroes’ welcome.

Flanked by UAE flags the pair walked out to be greeted by Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, accompanied by his grandchildren.

Sheikh Hamdan bin Zayed, Ruler’s Representative in Al Dhafra Region, and Sheikh Hazza bin Zayed , Deputy Chairman of Abu Dhabi Executive Council, also welcomed the astronauts at the airport.

Maj Al Mansouri gave Sheikh Mohamed the UAE flag he took to the International Space Station, as Al Fursan, the UAE Airforce’s aerobatic display team, performed a flyover, painting the sky with the colours of the country’s banner.

“You both are role models for the type of youth we are betting on in our steady march on the path of progress. You're a model to be emulated by Arab young people sincerely working for the advancement of their nations," Sheikh Mohamed said.

"The UAE, since the era of the nation's Founder Sheikh Zayed, has always been considering its people as its true wealth. Our investment in our most cherished assets are the ideal investment for our present and future," he said, adding that Maj Al Mansouri and Dr Al Neyadi, along with their colleagues at the National Space Programme, have laid down a solid basis for the nation's space ambition to reach Mars.

Dressed in the MBRSC blue space suit and with the UAE flag draped over their shoulders, the astronauts were greeted by an Emirati troupe dancing the traditional ayala before walking under a sign bearing their images and reading “welcome home, pride of the nation”.

Inside the airport, a queue of ministers waited to greet them as more than 100 schoolchildren applauded their return and excitedly waved flags.

Maj Al Mansouri, Dr Al Neyadi and Salem Al Marri, head of the National Space Programme at MBRSC, were given some time to freshen up before a press conference was held in the presence of officials and pupils in a conference room at the airport.

When asked how he felt to be returning home, Maj Al Mansouri said his pride was indescribable.

“As I was coming down from the plane and I saw Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, I saw in him the image of Sheikh Zayed and a dream older than 40 years coming true.

“I saw the happiness of Sheikh Zayed in all of you.

"I saw my country waiting for me. [I saw] pride that I represented the UAE and the Arab world in this mission. This is the start of a flame of hope for the Arab world in this field.

"I told Sheikh Mohamed that, for me, today is the day that I returned to Earth."

Speaking of his dreams from a young age growing up in Liwa, he said he was taught that nothing was impossible without hard work and his mission to space proved that to be true.

Dr Al Neyadi said he too was proud to watch Maj Al Mansouri go to space but felt as though he went with him.

"When Hazza went to space, he didn't go alone. The two of us went through the same things together, the difficult training, the cold weather, the food and the hardships and, when he launched, I felt as though I went with him."

He said Maj Al Mansouri's mission was an example to future generations and aimed to inspire them.

He mentioned how the Apollo mission prompted an increase in interest from young people to study space science and become astronauts.

“In 10 to 15 years, I bet there will be many eager Emirati astronauts.”

Hazza Al Mansouri speaks during a press conference at the Presidential Airport in Abu Dhabi on Saturday. Courtesy Dubai TV
Hazza Al Mansouri speaks during a press conference at the Presidential Airport in Abu Dhabi on Saturday. Courtesy Dubai TV

Mr Al Marri said the two were chosen from more than 4,000 applicants because were deemed the best candidates to represent their country in space.

"They were educated by Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, they're both military graduates, and of the 4,000 who applied, about 100 were military, and that is an indication of the strength of the military programme and of their love of country."

On Saturday, Maj Al Mansouri said he was honoured to have represented the UAE at the ISS for the first time.

"I was proud to wear my national dress in space. The astronauts were excited and happy to see someone from a new country at the ISS.

"We were the first to speak Arabic in space, we showed them how we pray and do things differently," he said.

"At the ISS, your religion and nationality don't matter. When I said goodbye to the astronauts, it felt like I was saying goodbye to my brothers and sisters, my family."

Prior to take-off, Maj Al Mansouri thanked everyone involved in the mission, which he described as an "international collaboration".

"Zayed’s Ambition lives on … I will be returning home from Moscow in a few hours. I would like to thank this city, its people, GCTC at Star City and the Roscosmos team who trained and prepared me to become the first Emirati astronaut," he said on Twitter.

"We have collaborated with Roscosmos, Nasa, Jaxa and ESA for this mission. This truly has been an international collaboration and I am humbled to have been part of this. To the next Emirati astronaut."

Before landing, Maj Al Mansouri and Dr Al Neyadi placed a mission patch, which bears the image of Sheikh Zayed and reads "Zayed's Ambition", on the plane that brought them home - in keeping with astronaut tradition.

Hamad Al Mansoori, chairman of the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre, also conveyed his gratitude to the Russian space agency.

"I would like to thank Dmitry Rogozin, director general of Roscosmos for the strategic partnership with MBRSC that has been instrumental in training the first Emirati astronauts.

"Their contribution facilitated the successful mission of Hazza Al Mansoori to the International Space Station, and contributed in further developing the UAE’s space sector,” he said.

Maj Al Mansouri and Dr Al Neyadi's journey began in December 2017, with the announcement of the Emirati Astronaut Programme by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai.

The pair were selected from a list of thousands of applicants in April.

They spent most of the year between Star City, in the Russian capital of Moscow, and Cologne, Germany, as they underwent intensive training.

They travelled to Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan weeks before Maj Al Mansouri's journey to the ISS.

Maj Al Mansouri carried out a series of scientific experiments and hosted a traditional Emirati dinner for his colleagues during his eight-day stint in space.

It is hoped his mission will inspire Emirati children to pursue careers in science and space engineering.

Updated: October 13, 2019 07:09 AM


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