As­tro­naut tells of space at a pre­mium as fans mob hero

The National - News - - FRONT PAGE - PA­TRICK RYAN

Hazza Al Mansouri has opened up about life back on Earth in his first public ap­pear­ance since his his­tory-mak­ing space mis­sion.

Dur­ing an event held to pro­mote the UAE’s fast-grow­ing space in­dus­try at Dubai World Trade Cen­tre, he told of the shock of be­ing mobbed by ador­ing fans and his ner­vous fi­nal mo­ments be­fore blast­ing off in a rocket bound for the In­ter­na­tional Space Sta­tion.

The UAE’s first as­tro­naut also shared his hopes for an era of sus­tained progress to ri­val the mile­stone achieve­ment of putting the first man on the Moon in 1969.

His ap­pear­ance at the Young Pro­fes­sion­als in Space event was his first chance to share his ex­pe­ri­ences on board the ISS with the public since his re­turn last month.

“What hap­pened with Neil Arm­strong, Apollo 11 and Russia is what we want to see in the UAE,” he said.

“It is al­ready hap­pen­ing here. The launch sparked some­thing in the souls of kids, not just here but across the whole Arab re­gion.

“I be­lieve they are al­ready in­spired and will fol­low their dreams and do some­thing great.”

Maj Al Mansouri etched his name in the record books when he spent eight days aboard the ISS, be­com­ing the first Emi­rati to travel to space.

His ground­break­ing achieve­ment, which in­cluded con­duct­ing ex­per­i­ments while on board the space sta­tion, has al­ready el­e­vated him to hero sta­tus for many, not just in the UAE, but for Arabs all over the world.

He spoke about how his jour­ney into space had cap­tured the imag­i­na­tion of younger gen­er­a­tions.

“The first time I went to mosque, af­ter re­turn­ing, I met a cou­ple of kids who asked me about the space mis­sion,” he said.

“The next day I went back and was shocked by the crowds of chil­dren there wait­ing for me, and I spent an hour ex­plain­ing it all to them.”

A re­cent trip to Mas­dar Park, Abu Dhabi, with his fam­ily soon led to a crowd con­verg­ing on its new hero.

“Some of the kids there recog­nised me and I spent two hours an­swer­ing all their ques­tions,” he said.

“My wife joked ‘that’s it, we’re not go­ing out any more’.”

That said, the re­sponse from the public has de­lighted Maj Al Mansouri.

“My mis­sion af­ter the first eight days in space was to in­spire the next gen­er­a­tion,” he said.

He also spoke about be­ing anx­ious that his dream would never come true.

“There were a lot of chal­lenges, if the launch was even two min­utes late then it would have meant we would have to be in or­bit for two days be­fore dock­ing at the ISS,” he said.

“The slight­est de­lay could have a se­ri­ous im­pact on morale and sched­ules. Some as­tro­nauts end up wait­ing for up to 10-15 years be­fore com­plet­ing their first mis­sion.

“Even when I was go­ing up the el­e­va­tor to the rocket I was say­ing to my­self ‘please God let this rocket work’.”

He said be­ing on board the ISS opened his eyes to col­lab­o­rat­ing with dif­fer­ent peo­ple.

“Work­ing in space al­lows you to see peo­ple, from dif­fer­ent back­grounds, work­ing to­wards one com­mon goal,” he said.

An­other chal­lenge that Maj Al Mansouri had to over­come was the lan­guage bar­rier.

He had to learn to speak Rus­sian for the mis­sion, along with fel­low Emi­rati Sul­tan Al Neyadi, who was on standby for the mis­sion.

“If there were any prob­lems I had to speak to the com­man­der in Rus­sian.

“I was re­spon­si­ble for shut­ting down the sys­tems in the event of a fire and press ven­ti­la­tion switches, but all the signs were in Rus­sian.”

He con­cluded by stat­ing his de­sire to re­turn to space.

Mr Al Neyadi was also at the event where he spoke about the im­por­tance of the UAE’s on­go­ing space mis­sion.

“As a na­tion we want to en­cour­age as many peo­ple as pos­si­ble to en­gage in sci­ence,” he said.

“Hope­fully we can spread the en­thu­si­asm to help drive an in­no­va­tion based econ­omy for the coun­try with fu­ture mis­sions.”

While he was not se­lected, Dr Al Neyadi had to un­dergo the same rig­or­ous train­ing regime as Maj Al Mansouri.

“I ap­plied with­out hes­i­ta­tion to be se­lected for the mis­sion be­cause it was my child­hood dream,” said the en­gi­neer.

“The train­ing was a chal­lenge, not only to go to a new coun­try, but to adapt to a dif­fer­ent en­vi­ron­ment and at­mos­phere.

“We worked as a team and gained a lot we can share with the young­sters of the UAE and the Arab re­gion. This is only the be­gin­ning and we are look­ing for­ward to more op­por­tu­ni­ties in the fu­ture.”

Hazza Al Mansouri is look­ing for­ward to a re­turn to space

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