LIVE: Sultan Al Neyadi blasts off to space
UAE astronaut Sultan Al Neyadi isn't flying the Emirati flag alone in his historic journey to the International Space Station.
Suhail, a mascot for the nation's space mission, came along for the ride as Dr Al Neyadi and his three crewmates blasted off from the Kennedy Space Centre on Thursday morning.
A star was born when Saeed Al Emadi, from the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre, developed the cartoon character to spark interest in space and Stem subjects (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) in the next generation.
A stuffed-toy version of the mascot served as an additional crewmate during Emirati astronaut Maj Hazza Al Mansouri's eight-day stay on board the ISS, three and a half years ago.
On Thursday, he travelled again with Dr Al Neyadi.
"Allow me to introduce you to the fifth crew member. His name is Suhail and it is the Arabic name for the star Canopus," Dr Al Neyadi said after lift-off.
"In the Middle East, we anticipate the appearance of Canopus because it indicates the end of summer and the beginning of the cool times.
"This is the second flight for Suhail because it flew with Hazza Al Mansouri in 2019."
Many people think Suhail is an alien, Dr Al Neyadi said, "but to me, he is from Earth — in a spacesuit — with high ambitions".
The designer of the blue-faced character said he aimed to help promote the country's astronaut programme to children.
“When the UAE Astronaut Programme was launched, I felt it was the perfect opportunity to inspire the youth and children,” Mr Al Emadi previously told The National.
“I came up with the idea to design the mascot that would represent our centre, as well as be a part of the mission to the International Space Station. At the same time, I wanted to create a character that could interact with the larger audience and teach the youth about space and related science.
Social media users chose its name with the help of an online poll.
Maj Al Mansouri took several photos of Suhail while on board the space station and used it as a tool to interact with children.
Miniature versions of the stuffed toy were distributed during the live screening event of the launch at the MBRSC headquarters. To children, it eventually became a symbol of the country’s bold space mission.
“I never thought that I would end up drawing the mascot for MBRSC, let alone see my creation in the International Space Station with the first UAE astronaut,” Mr Al Emadi said.
“It was a big deal, as the mascot was the first cartoon character from the UAE and the region to go to space. I hope that it inspired children and made them want to learn more about space.
“In the long run, I want to develop the character of ‘Suhail’ further, so that the audience can engage with it even more.”
Mr Al Emadi was also part of the Zayed’s Ambition brand and the mission patch that was created in collaboration with the Federal Youth Authority.
Quirky items taken to space: from a Tesla car to a lightsaber
Before the Olympic Games in Atlanta in 1996, the sporting event's famous torch was taken on board the space shuttle Columbia.
Four years later, the torch was carried on the Atlantis Shuttle as the Games moved to Sydney.
In 2013, Russian cosmonauts Oleg Kotov and Sergey Ryazansky went a step further by taking the torch on a spacewalk outside the ISS.
In a unique tribute, the ashes of Clyde Tombaugh, who discovered Pluto, were taken on Nasa's New Horizons mission to the dwarf planet in 2006.
Life imitated art in 2007 when a team of seven astronauts transported a Star Wars lightsaber, wielded by Luke Skywalker in the Hollywood film franchise, on the International Space Station.
Not to be outdone, SpaceX Elon Musk created a remarkable slice of corporate synergy in 2018 by launching a roadster from his Tesla brand into space.
It was launched on a Falcon Heavy rocket, with a dummy driver called Starman behind the wheel.
Five years on, it is believed to have racked up more than four billion kilometres, although it is difficult to pinpoint where in space it is now.
Other notable items to take off from Earth include Lego, a piece of the Wright Brothers' first aeroplane and even a corned-beef sandwich.