Science

Great reception for UAE space hero Sultan Al Neyadi, who has already set his eyes on the Moon

Abu Dhabi: UAE astronaut Sultan Al Neyadi has set his eyes on the Moon, he revealed during the grand welcome extended to him by his proud country on his triumphant return home after the longest Arab space mission on Monday.

The United Arab Emirates opened a new airport terminal in Abu Dhabi to welcome the space hero who was welcomed by the country’s leaders. Abu Dhabi International Terminal A, which is expected to open later this year, had a special arrival. The ‘Sultan of Space’ arrived from Houston to the elegant new terminal on an official plane sent by the government of the United Arab Emirates.

Coming from Al Ain, Al Neyadi returned home on an official plane named after his homeland. The flight of his “Al Ain” plane lasted 17 hours, about the same time it took his NASA SpaceX Crew-6 to land on Earth from the International Space Station on September 4.

In honor of his return, the Al Fursan aerobatic team from the United Arab Emirates performed a flyover over the airport after their flight landed.

Al Neyadi was accompanied by senior officials from the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Center (MBRSC), the agency behind the UAE Astronaut Programme, and the first Emirati astronaut Hazzaa Al Mansoori, who was Al Neyadi’s reserve on the most recent Arab space mission. long and the first Arab space mission. Increase for Expedition 69 aboard the International Space Station (ISS).

He had an emotional reunion with his father and three of his six children before being welcomed by the nation’s leaders. He was seen hugging his children tightly before walking proudly alongside them and his father Saif Al Neyadi.

UAE astronaut Sultan Al Neyadi (centre) greets his father Saif Al Neyadi (right) and his children during a welcome reception at the new Abu Dhabi International Airport.
Image credit: United Arab Emirates Presidential Court

Leaders greet the Sultan

The President, His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, and His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates and Ruler of Dubai, welcomed Al Neyadi.

Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed and Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid spoke with Al Neyadi – accompanied by his father and three of his children – and discussed aspects of the mission and his experience during his stay in space.

20230918 sultan al neyadi's return home

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They congratulated him for completing the longest space flight ever by an Arab astronaut and for becoming the first Arab to perform a spacewalk. Their Highnesses praised Sultan as an inspiration to the youth of the UAE and the world and noted that his pioneering achievement reflected the nation’s limitless ambitions.

The president hailed Al Neyadi’s return as a moment of national pride for the United Arab Emirates. He noted that the people of the UAE are united in pride at this remarkable achievement, while Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid described Sultan’s mission not only as a notable milestone in the UAE’s scientific advancements but also as a reflection of the priority of the nation to invest in its people. which began under the Founding Fathers and continues today.

The UAE astronaut thanked Their Highnesses for their continued support of the UAE space program and then presented the President with a UAE flag that had accompanied him during his 186-day mission to space.

“It’s the flag I hung on the dome. It has the smell of space. This is the one I gave to the president. He has visited space and returned,” Al Neyadi later said about the flag he gave to the president.

Al Neyadi was seated between the two leaders during his meeting with them. In a touching gesture, he was seen escorting the leaders out of the VIP room where they held the meeting.

The leaders then addressed members of the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Center team, accompanied by Al Neyadi and other members of the UAE Astronaut Programme.

They thanked all those responsible for the success of this most recent mission and praised the teams involved in previous missions – including Hazza Al Mansoori’s trip to the ISS, the Emirates Lunar Mission and the ‘Hope Probe’ Mars Mission – and those working on the next mission to the asteroid belt and the Mars 2117 program.

The President referred to the late Sheikh Zayed, who instilled in his people the determination not to allow obstacles to stand in the way of progress. He highlighted that the UAE has made great progress in the field of space exploration and appreciated Sheikh Mohammed’s vision to promote the UAE’s capabilities in this area.

He also highlighted the importance of investing today in the future progress of the UAE and the world, and of developing the nation’s knowledge economy and the skills of its youth in the fields of science and technology.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid noted that the UAE Astronaut Program reinforces the country’s vision based on investing in its people, empowering them, supporting their potential and enhancing their experience and capabilities, all of which form the basis of past and future progress.

He stated that, with the grace of God, the UAE aims to develop more young men and women as astronauts to enable greater scientific research and exploration, both in space and on Earth. He commented that the leadership remains committed to investing in the people of the UAE and empowering their sons and daughters with faith and trust.

To mark the return home, a grand reception ceremony was held at the new Terminal A at Abu Dhabi Airport. The ceremony was attended by schoolchildren dressed in astronaut flight suits, government employees and members of the public. Al Neyadi was welcomed with a performance of the traditional Al Ayyala dance and the audience waved UAE flags and applauded, demonstrating the deep pride and celebration felt by the people of the nation.

Al Neyadi then attended a press conference together with Salem Al Marri, director general of MBRSC, and Hazzaa Al Mansoori.

Eyes on the Moon

During the press conference it was clear that the sultan of space will set his eyes on the Moon.

When asked about his personal preference for going to the Moon, he said: “I see myself as an astronaut ready to take on any mission. Personally I would love to go to the Moon and if possible go to Mars. “I don’t think it will happen before with respect to Mars.”

He highlighted that the United Arab Emirates has signed the Artemis Accords for the safe and peaceful exploration of the Moon. “This is the biggest step. “We all know the gateway,” he said, referring to the Lunar Gateway, NASA’s planned space station that will orbit the Moon.

The United Arab Emirates is reportedly exploring ways to help design the Gateway, including providing an airlock module at the station.

“It’s a proposed station that will orbit the Moon, so I would love to be a part of it.”

However, he noted that it depends on the opportunity and suitability for the mission.

“As you know, space has many effects. We don’t know what could happen. [Astronaut’s bodies receive a lot of radiation. We’re still in the process of identifying what sort of impact the six months in space has had on my body,” he pointed out.

He said he felt almost 90 per cent back to normal after the two-week rehabilitation programme and thanked Dr Hanan Al Suwaidi, the flight surgeon at MBRSC, for helping him readjust to gravity and life back on Earth.

‘I want to sleep’

Back on the home planet, his immediate priority was, however, to catch a good night’s sleep. “The first thing that I am going to do is sleep,” Al Neyadi said.

He added that he wanted to have some downtime and relax. “I would love to go out just to nature. I wanna go out to the mosque. I love to pray, see everybody, greet everybody and answer some questions.”

Al Neaydi went on to say that he was happy to see his children would have some quality time with them and explain his mission to them. “I took some small toys for them. I brought Suhail [toy mascot of MBRSC which accompanied him to the ISS} and my son was joking. Is it the Suhail you took [to space] and I told him no, this is false. I have hidden the real one. He’s a VIP,” the spacewalker said.

Al Neyadi added that it was an honor for him to be called the ‘Sultan of Space’, but politely said he believed the title should go to Hazzaa Al Mansoori as he was the first Emirati to fly into space.

Al Mansoori said he was proud of Al Neyadi, whose mission showed everyone that “if you are dedicated, you can achieve anything.”

He said the re-entry of Al Neyadi’s spacecraft to Earth was a dangerous episode. “But we were happy to see his smile after landing. This mission was not easy. It was six months in space. It will be written in history and we are all very proud of it.”

Al Neyadi further said that with proper preparations and confidence in the goal anything would be possible. He added that astronauts are ambassadors in space and mentioned that he felt proud to represent the Emiratis and Arabs through the space mission while peacefully working with astronauts from several other countries.

He answered several other questions related to his mission and shared the insights he gained from his deep experience. He also highlighted the importance of the experiments he conducted and the need to protect planet Earth and live in peace.

Al Neyadi noted that the UAE hosting COP-28 shows that the country is committed to protecting the planet.

Salem Al Marri thanked the wise leaders for their support of the nation’s space missions.

“We follow the strategies and vision of our wise leadership. At every stage we update our knowledge and are always thinking about future missions,” he stated.

“We have shown our world and our space partners that this will be a sustainable program. Our astronauts have shown that they are determined. We have chosen two more and they are now training for future missions. This has shown once again that they are really serious about this affair”.

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