Hazza Al Mansoori, the United Arab Emirates’ first astronaut, was welcomed home with a hero’s welcome after successfully completing a mission to the International Space Station.
Al Mansoori, along with his colleague, Dr. Sultan Al Neyadi, who was also the backup astronaut for the first UAE astronaut in space, was welcomed with a to hero’s welcome as a red carpet was rolled out as they arrived from Russia.
The pair landed at the Presidential Terminal at Abu Dhabi International Airport on a Presidential Flight at 4:49 p.m.
The pair was even greeted by Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, accompanied by his grandchildren.
Sheikh Hamdan bin Zayed, Ruler’s Representative in Al Dhafra Region, and Sheikh Hazza bin Zayed, Deputy Chairman of Abu Dhabi Executive Council, also welcomed the astronauts at the airport.
Al Mansoori gave Sheikh Mohamed the UAE flag he took to the International Space Station, as Al Fursan, the UAE Airforce’s aerobatic display team, performed a flyover, painting the sky with the colors of the country’s banner.
“You both are role models for the type of youth we are betting on in our steady march on the path of progress. You’re a model to be emulated by Arab young people sincerely working for the advancement of their nations,” Sheikh Mohamed said.
“The UAE, since the era of the nation’s Founder Sheikh Zayed, has always been considering its people as its true wealth. Our investment in our most cherished assets are the ideal investment for our present and future,” he said, adding that Al Mansoori and Dr. Al Neyadi, along with their colleagues at the National Space Programme, have laid down the foundation for its plans for the nation’s next space ambition, which is to land its astronauts to Mars.
Notably, Al Mansoori returned to the UAE on Saturday after eight days in space and most of the year in Russia.
During a press conference that followed shortly after, Al Mansoori said his pride was indescribable.
“As I was coming down from the plane and I saw Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, I saw in him the image of Sheikh Zayed and a dream older than 40 years coming true.”
“I saw the happiness of Sheikh Zayed in all of you. I saw my country waiting for me. [I saw] pride that I represented the UAE and the Arab world in this mission. This is the start of a flame of hope for the Arab world in this field,” Al Mansoori said.
“I told Sheikh Mohamed that, for me, today is the day that I returned to Earth.”
Dr. Al Neyadi said he, too, was proud to watch Al Mansoori go to space but felt as though he went with him.
“When Hazza went to space, he didn’t go alone. The two of us went through the same things together, the difficult training, the cold weather, the food, and the hardships, and, when he launched, I felt as though I went with him.”
Al Neyadi has been promised a spot on the country’s next space mission and a team from Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Center.
Lastly, Hazza Al Mansoori detailed his experiences aboard the ISS and beamed with pride. “I was proud to wear my national dress in space. The astronauts were excited and happy to see someone from a new country at the ISS,” he said.
“We were the first to speak Arabic in space, we showed them how we pray and do things differently,” he said.
“At the ISS, your religion and nationality don’t matter. When I said goodbye to the astronauts, it felt like I was saying goodbye to my brothers and sisters, my family.”
Al Mansoori was the astronauts selected to participate in the agreement between Russia and the UAE, which allowed them to send its first astronaut to space.