The soyuz MS-15 rocket carrying three crew members of the ISS blasts off from Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. AFP
Imran Mojib, Special Correspondent
The space mission, carrying the first Emirati astronaut Hazzaa Al Mansoori, aboard the Russian spacecraft Soyuz MS-15, was launched successfully at 5:57pm (local time) on Wednesday, confirmed Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC), Dubai.
Crown Prince of Dubai Sheikh Hamdan Bin Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum witnessed the launch live from the MBRSC.
Hundreds of people had gathered at the centre to watch history unfold, as the first Emirati mission to the International Space Station (ISS) was launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Al Mansoori is accompanied on the mission by Russia’s Oleg Skripochka and Nasa astronaut Jessica Meir.
“Everything continues to go smoothly for this ride,” a commentator said on Nasa television seven minutes after the launch. Russia’s Roscosmos space agency said on Twitter that the spacecraft had successfully reached orbit.
Mansoori received support from around the world before what he described as his “dream” mission.
Mansoori will spend eight days on the ISS. Writing on Twitter before the launch, Mansoori said he was “filled with this indescribable feeling of glory and awe.”
“Today I carry the dreams and ambition of my country to a whole new dimension. May Allah grant me success in this mission,” he said.
The Holy Quran, a UAE flag, pictures of his family and a book by Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid were among the few things he was allowed to pack for his space adventure.
Sheikh Hamdan dedicated this historic achievement to UAE President His Highness Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, and Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces His Highness Sheikh Mohamed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan.
Mansoori plans to conduct experiments and said he would take Emirati food with him to share with the crew.
Russian Orthodox priests blessed the spacecraft ahead of the launch, in a traditional prayer service often held before Russian rocket launches.
The launch was attended by Minister of State for Higher Education and Advanced Skills and Chairman of UAE Space Agency Dr Ahmad Bin Abdullah Belhoul Al Falasi, MBRSC Chairman Hamad Obaid Al Mansoori, MBRSC Director General Yousuf Hamad Al Shaibani, and Head of the UAE Astronaut Programme Salem Al Marri, apart from senior officials and MBRSC team members. Family members and relatives of Hazzaa Al Mansoori and Sultan Al Neyadi, the UAE’s first two astronauts, also attended the event.
Some people who gathered at the MBRSC carried UAE flags, while others were dressed in blue jumpsuits spelling out: “Future astronaut.”
Badriya Al Hamadi, 38, said she was so proud of the historical moment, adding: “I feel like I am the one going to space.”
According to Amer Al Ghafri of the MBRSC, Mansoori’s launch is only just the beginning of the UAE’s dreams of space exploration. “There are a lot of ambitions and a lot more work,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Federal Competitiveness and Statistics Authority and the UAE Space Agency revealed the results of a first-of-its-kind survey assessing the Emirati society’s awareness of the country’s national space programme.
The survey showed considerable interest in the programme and the public growing awareness of its importance for supporting the country’s advancement and achieving the UAE Centennial 2071 project.
The results of the survey coincide with the expedition of the first Emirati astronaut, Hazzaa Al Mansoori, to the International Space Station, a historic achievement for the UAE.
Up to 3,727 respondents were covered by the survey, including UAE nationals and residents, both male and female, and students.
The results of the survey revealed considerable expectations regarding the UAE’s space programme and its main strategic tasks. Its participants were aware of several key aspects of the space sector, including the development of scientific capabilities.
The successful launch of the first flight of an Emirati astronaut represents a major achievement for Arab and Islamic nations. The accomplishment contributes to realising the dream of the Father of the Nation the late Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, and the vision of the leadership to make the country a leading player in shaping the world’s future.
Sheikh Hamdan expressed his best wishes to Al Mansoori for the completion of the historic mission and the scientific experiments planned as part of it. The mission marks the beginning of a new era in which the UAE is emerging as an important player in the global scientific landscape.
As the deadline for the takeoff of the space mission to the International Space Mission draws near, the palpable excitement is rapidly going north.
The countdown has begun. The UAE is just hours away from achieving another historic milestone. After turning the desert into a land of opportunities in a short span of time, Emiratis are now aiming high with the landmark space mission.
“It is a wonderful feeling to witness the Space Station mission of Hazzaa Al Mansouri,” says reputed Egyptian-American space scientist and geologist Dr Farouk El-Baz.
The mission of Emirati astronaut Hazzaa Al Mansoori will enhance the UAE’s soft power, feel Emiratis. The UAE has made phenomenal strides in its spectacular growth, which has pitchforked it into a nation of great reckoning in the international community.
"We had a very difficult two years. We didn't have foreign exchange and couldn't pay our debts. We have avoided a huge crisis because we didn't default (payments). But I know it hasn't been easy for the people, I understand the difficulties they faced and still are facing,” he said in a televised address to the nation.
The flag hoisting ceremony was also held at the Pakistan Consulate General Dubai on the occasion of the 74th Independence Day. The ceremony was held in a manner keeping in view the local laws on social gatherings due to COVID-19.
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