Hazza Al-Mansouri from the UAE, Jessica Meir from the US, and veteran Russian commander Oleg Skripochka took off on board of the Soyuz MS-15 spacecraft, a few minutes before 2:00 pm GMT on September 25, 2019, from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, to carry them to the International Space Station (ISS). They docked with the ISS at 7:42 pm GMT above the southern Pacific Ocean. Hazza Al-Mansouri is the UAE’s first astronaut in space, the first Arab on the International Space Station and the Arab world’s third astronaut.
Al-Mansouri will carry out 16 scientific experiments while on the mission, and he is set to return to Earth with NASA’s Nick Hague and Russian cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin on October 3, 2019. Skripochka and Meir are set to remain on the ISS until the spring of 2020.
In the UAE, Emiratis closely followed the launch, which was played on big screens in Dubai. Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed said he was proud to see Al-Mansouri head towards the International Space Station taking the UAE to “new heights.”
The International Space Station (ISS)
The International Space Station (ISS), the largest human-made body in low-Earth orbit, is a partnership between European countries (represented by ESA), the United States (NASA), Japan (JAXA), Canada (CSA) and Russia (Roscosmos). The ISS is the world’s largest international cooperative program in science and technology.
The UAE’s space program
The United Arab Emirates has the most ambitious space program within the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. The UAE has expressed growing interest in space in recent years, establishing a national space agency and funding satellite projects, in addition to its planned human spaceflight program.
In September 2018, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and ruler of the Emirate of Dubai, said, “We have the region’s only Mars exploration program, a fully operating satellite manufacturing capability and an astronaut program as part of our Dhs 20 billion investment in the space sector. The secret is our young Arab people and their capabilities.”
The UAE launched the National Space Program in April 2017, under which the UAE will prepare Emirati cadres specialized in airspace sciences. The country’s investments in space technologies have already exceeded $5.4 billion.
The UAE’s space program is based on the following institutions:
The UAE Space Agency. Established in 2014, the agency directs national space programs, creates space policy and regulation. One of the space programs is the Genes in Space, which will see students compete for the opportunity to have their experiments launched into space and conducted by scientists on board the ISS and the Satellite Launch project.
Khalifa University. UAE’s Khalifa University has opened the region’s first space lab. The government has announced the setting up of a research center that will act as an incubator for space research and innovation. The laboratory has special unmanned aerial vehicles, robots, and sensing systems that help mimic actual conditions in space.
Mohammed bin Rashid Space Center. MBRSC was founded by the Dubai ruler in 2015 when it was integrated with the existing Emirates Institution for Advanced Science & Technology (EIAST). The center’s projects include satellites and the Emirates Mars Mission. It has scientific laboratories and research facilities based in Dubai, as part of its broader goal of building a sustainable knowledge-based economy.
The UAE astronaut corps. On September 6, 2017, the UAE launched its ambitious plan to send Emirati astronauts into space. Young Emiratis have been invited to register for the UAE Astronaut Program.
The Mars project. The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has announced its ambitious plans to send an unmanned probe to Mars. The probe, which has been named “Hope,” will be the first Arab mission to another planet. Its mission is to sample Mars’ atmosphere and track how it changes over features such as canyons, volcanos, and deserts as well as over time. The “Hope probe” would touch down on Mars by 2021, in time to commemorate the 50th anniversary of when seven emirates came together to form the UAE.
Hazza Al-Mansouri is the UAE’s first astronaut in space, the first Arab on the International Space Station and the Arab world’s third astronaut. The first Arab in outer space was Saudi Arabia’s Sultan bin Salman Al-Saud, who flew on a US shuttle mission in 1985. Two years later, Syrian air force pilot Muhammed Faris spent a week aboard the ex-Soviet Union’s Mir space station.
The UAE recognized the importance of space for its knowledge-based economy, and the government has already invested more than $5.4 billion in the space industry.
The UAE space program has seen ambitious initiatives that include the astronaut program and the Emirates Mars Mission, where the UAE aims to send an unmanned probe to Mars. The mission is scheduled for launch in 2020.
The astronaut program made the UAE one of only a handful of states in the Middle East to have sent an astronaut into space.
[Sources: Arab News, Asharq al Awsat, Al Arabiya, Ameinfo, The New Arab, CNBC, Ahram Online]