The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has now officially sent one of its citizens off to space, becoming the 40th country to achieve the feat.
Hazaa AlMansoori, is a 35-year-old former military pilot and was selected for the UAE astronaut program from a pool of more than 4,000 applicants. Technically, he flew as a spaceflight participant under a contract between Roscosmos, Russia’s space agency, and the UAE’s Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC).
Mainly, the flight is part of Roscosmos’ “spaceflight participant” program, which allows individuals who are not part of the Russian space agency to hitch a ride on short-duration flights to the ISS.
In addition to representing his country, he is also only the third Arab to fly in space after Prince Sultan bin Salman al-Saud of Saudi Arabia and Muhammed Faris from Syria, who flew more than 30 years ago.
“I am proud to be the first astronaut in orbit on the ISS from the United Arab Emirates and from an Arab country,” AlMansoori told reporters before his launch. “It is really an honor and I am looking forward to making this mission successful and to come back with a lot of knowledge and a lot of experience that I’ll share with everyone.”
In the same launch, AlMansoori was joined by crew mates cosmonaut Oleg Skripochka of Roscosmos and astronaut Jessica Meir of NASA on Wednesday (September 25). Notably, Skripochka is a veteran of two missions to the space station and has logged more than 300 days prior to this launch, but for the two others, it will be their first.
The three launched on board Russia’s Soyuz MS-15 spacecraft at 9:57 a.m. EDT (1457 GMT or 6:57 p.m. local time) atop a Soyuz FG rocket from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan and are expected to dock at the orbiting outpost at 3:45 p.m. EDT.
Once aboard the space station, Meir, Skripochka and AlMansoori will join the expedition 60 team with NASA astronauts Christina Koch, Andrew Morgan and Nick Hague; Russian cosmonauts Alexey Ovchinin and Alexander Skvortsov; and Italian astronaut Luca Parmitano, of the European Space Agency.
However, only being part of Roscosmos’ spaceflight program, AlMansoori will remain at the space station for eight days before his scheduled return to Earth on October 3 with Hague and Ovchinin, who have been living and working aboard the orbiting lab since March.
The UAE is currently not a member state on the ISS and technically has no business staying on the orbiting space station for long durations.
The United Arab Emirates launched its national space program in 2017 with the lofty goal of reaching Mars by 2021 and building a settlement on the Red Planet by 2117.
The flight also marked the final scheduled use of Gagarin’s Start, the launch pad where cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin lifted off on April 12, 1961 to become the first human to fly into space.
Roscosmos officials have said that the historic pad, also known as Site 1, will be upgraded to support a more modern version of the Soyuz rocket.
“It is a unique responsibility and a unique opportunity to bring aboard the station the first astronaut from the United Arab Emirates. Not that we’re flying him; he’s going to work as a full-fledged crew member of our crew,” said Skripochka, 49, who has already logged 331 days in space during two prior stays on the station, Expedition 25/26 in 2011 and Expedition 47/48 in 2016, at a press conference on Tuesday. “But it does bring a certain level of attention to our crew. It is a historic event to say the least.”
“It has been a very interesting dynamic, especially being part of this very historic mission with a first time for a country,” said Meir, 42, who is also making her first spaceflight and is amember of NASA’s 21st group of astronauts selected in 2013. “It doesn’t happen as often as it should these days, so it is really amazing and makes the experience even more interesting.”