Hazzaa Ali Almansoori and Sultan Al Neyadi Source: Zawya
Today will be remembered as a groundbreaking milestone for the UAE, as the first Emirati astronaut gets ready to raise the country’s flag higher than it's ever been before.
Hazza Al Mansoori will blast into space at 13,000kph from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan to the $160 billion International Space Station (ISS) just before 6pm Dubai time tonight.
The Soyuz MS-15 spacecraft is on the launchpad. Crew members Russian commander Oleg Skripochka and NASA astronaut Jessica Meir will also be onboard alongside Al Mansoori.
Following Russian tradition, reserve fellow Emirati astronaut Sultan Al Neyadin, Russian commander Sergey Ryzhikov and NASA’s Thomas Marshburn were present to witness the aircraft positioning ahead of the liftoff. Takeoff will be from the same exact spot where Yuri Gagarin, the first man to travel into space, took off in the Soviet Union's Vostok 1 spacecraft on April 12, 1961. The main astronauts were not present for the positioning as it’s regarded bad luck.
Local service providers, Etisalat and Du, are commemorating tonight’s mission by displaying "1stUAEAstro" in the service provider information bar shown on most mobile phones. Additionally, 150,000 commemorative stamps have been issued by Emirates Post today in partnership with the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC). Souvenirs were also made available in Baikonur.
Al Mansoori will be the 240th visitor to the space station, while the UAE will be named the 19th visiting country. Saudi Arabia's Prince Sultan Bin Salman Abdulaziz Al Saud and Syria's Muhammed Faris both flew into space in the 1980s, but Al Mansoori will be the first Arab on the orbiting laboratory. Al Mansoori was considered a natural candidate given his experience as a military pilot for 14 years and having previously flown the F-16 jet.
The UAE's first space mission is a positive sign for the country’s space sector and the growth of its space programme. The UAE Space Agency and MBRSC have also announced the launch of Emirates Mars Mission's Hope Probe in 2021, commemorating the country’s 50th anniversary.
Before becoming a military pilot in the UAE armed forces, Al Mansoori graduated from Khalifa bin Zayed Air College in Al Ain where he received a bachelor's degree in aviation in 2004. Out of more than 4,000 candidates, the father of four was one of just two shortlisted to be chosen for the UAE Astronaut Programme, which was launched by Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai in 2017.
His journey will be documented in a four-part film series on National Geographic in partnership with MBRSC.
Al Mansoori will return to Earth on October 3 while his crew members will remain on the ISS until spring 2020.