Pioneering Emirati astronaut Sultan Al Neyadi has reflected on the “experience of a lifetime” as he counts down the hours to his return journey to Earth after six months in space.
Dr Al Neyadi spoke of the sense of duty he felt during his historic mission to inspire others to reach for the stars, as the UAE and the wider region enjoy a renaissance in the space sector.
He told of his desire to return to space during a farewell ceremony on the International Space Station, which was streamed by Nasa on Thursday evening.
The father of six, from Al Ain, will begin his journey home Sunday and is scheduled to splash down off the coast of Florida shortly before 9am, UAE time, the following day.
Live coverage of the momentous trip will be broadcast online over the weekend, which you will also be able to watch and follow with The National's live updates.
“Thanks for the wonderful time spent here. An amazing time, six months, it felt really quick," said Dr Al Neyadi, who spoke in both Arabic and English during the interview.
“We did a lot – Evas [extra vehicular activity, such as his landmark spacewalk], science, maintenance, we had fun, we had good outreach with many people around the world, so it was really amazing, especially for my region.”
Dr Al Neyadi touched on the significant strides made in the space race across the Middle East in recent years.
The UAE's Hazza Al Mansouri entered the record books when he became the first Arab to set foot on the ISS in 2019.
Before the ISS existed, Prince Sultan bin Salman of Saudi Arabia flew on Nasa's Space Shuttle in 1985, becoming the first Arab in space.
The Emirati trailblazer was joined on the ISS by Saudi astronauts Rayyanah Barnawi and Ali Al Qarni for eight days in May.
Ms Barnawi became the first Arab woman to go on a space mission.
“I come from a place where human space flights were stopped for more than 30 years and I felt that I am responsible, obligated, to show what's happening aboard the station and I think it's a small boost towards spreading the enthusiasm in our region,” Dr Al Neyadi said.
“I can't be happier with the time I was here, doing everything possible, and it was really incredible time.”
He said he would be eager to return to space again with his three Crew-6 colleagues, Nasa astronauts Stephen Bowen and Woody Hoburg, and Russian cosmonaut Andrey Fedyaev, who he arrived on the ISS with on March 3.
“We always get asked if we want to fly together again and I always say 100 per cent. I would love to do it again,” he said.
He urged members of the replacement Crew-7 team, who docked on the ISS this week, to cherish every moment.
“For the newcomers, enjoy every part of it. It is an experience of a lifetime,” he said.
The intrepid traveller was joined on the broadcast by his faithful companion Suhail, a mascot for the nation's space mission.
A stuffed-toy version of the mascot also served as an additional crewmate during Maj Al Mansouri's eight-day stay on board the ISS.
Dr Al Neyadi made his mark by becoming the first Arab to embark on a long-duration space mission.
He broke more new ground in April when he became the first person from the Arab world to take part in a spacewalk.
He completed a six-and-a-half-hour spacewalk, after exiting the International Space Station with his American colleague Stephen Bowen.
The duo carried out two crucial tasks during their maintenance assignment, including preparing a structure on the station’s exterior for a future solar array installation.
Sultan returns to Earth
The UAE public can watch Dr Al Neyadi's remarkable voyage home from 400km above Earth live through the MBRSC website, at www.mbrsc.ae/live.
Saturday, September 2
Live coverage of undocking procedure from 3pm, with undocking scheduled for 5.05pm.
Sunday, September 3
Live coverage from 8.30am. Scheduled splashdown, no earlier than 8.58am.