Sheikh Zayed’s dream is coming true': Major Hazza Al Mansouri reveals pride before blast-off
A relaxed and cheerful Hazza Al Mansouri joined fellow astronauts for a final press conference before his historic journey into space on Wednesday evening.
Saying he had the good wishes of ”the whole Arab world and my whole country”, the first UAE astronaut added that “all humankind” had contributed to his mission.
He was watched by family and friends, including his brothers, as well dozens of the world’s media, who have taken a keen interest in the UAE’s first space mission.
The three astronauts, who include Russian commander Oleg Skripochka and Nasa’s Jessica Meir, were dressed in their blue mission suits and spoke behind protective quarantine glass to ensure they did not catch any infection prior to heading to the International Space Station.
There was applause across the room as Major Al Mansouri was introduced as representing the UAE, with the pioneering astronaut raising his hand in acknowledgment and giving the three-fingered salute made famous by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai.
In official business, the Russian space agency first confirmed what everyone already knew. That Soyuz Mission MS-15 will lift off on Wednesday just before 6pm, UAE time, from the Baikonur Cosmodrome and head to the ISS.
Maj Al Mansouri was then able to take questions in three languages; Arabic, Russian and English from journalists.
It is a requirement of training that all astronauts learn Russian before flying on a Soyuz space ship.
Fellow astronaut Jessica Meir, from the US, who is also making her first flight, praised Maj Al Mansouri as “great”, saying his personality was a perfect match for the team.
His training as an F-16 fighter pilot made him a natural candidate for astronaut training, she said, along with his “sense of enthusiasm and motivation”.
The crew were able to communicate easily using a language she described as “Ronglish”, a mixture of Russian and English.
Many of the questions during the hour-long press conference were directed to Maj Al Mansouri and his backup - or colleague on standby should he fall ill - Sultan Al Neyadi.
Maj Al Mansouri told journalists he would be dedicating a song to his mother in a mix tape chosen by astronauts to play in the two hours they spend strapped in their space capsule before the launch.
The importance of family and his children was something the astronaut repeated several times, saying he hoped to inspire young people with his mission and would return “for the good of my children and my family”.
It was “a great honour” to be chosen to take the UAE into space for the first time, he added.
He also paid tribute to some of the pioneers of space travel, singling out Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space, and Neil Armstrong, the first man on the Moon.
His mission, he said, was realising the dream of Sheikh Zayed, who met Nasa astronauts twice in the 1980s and spoke of his vision of the UAE becoming a major player in space exploration.
“[For] more than one year I was afraid to say I wanted to be an astronaut because it cannot happen in our country,” said Maj Al Mansouri.
“Thanks to our leadership they have made it real and possible, and we proudly say in our country we have astronauts.”
During his time on the space station, Maj Al Mansouri will carry out several experiments relating to health and host an evening of Emirati food specially prepared to eat in zero gravity. His crew mates were also particularly fond of dates he added, with a supply travelling as cargo.
Questioned about observing his Muslim faith, he explained he had become used to praying in the cockpit of his fighter aircraft, even at high speed.
He also plans to make a live broadcast showing how to pray on the Space Station, which makes a full orbit of the Earth, seeing sunrise and sunset, every 90 minutes.
Asked about humourous moments in training, he recalled having to put out a non-existent fire during a simulated exercise on a mock-up of the space station.
For Dr Al Neyadi, it was the moment he nearly accidentally choked Maj Al Mansour during another training exercise. “People will think I am the worst backup ever,” he joked.
To end the conference, Maj Al Mansouri even managed to turn the tables on his interrogators, gathering his two crew members and a smart phone to record a final selfie with the media as a backdrop.
For rest of the evening, the three crew of MS-15 will observe a pre-launch tradition by watching the 1970 Russian cult film White Son of the Desert.
In the morning they will put on their space suits and leave their home at the Cosmonaut Hotel in Baikonur City for the drive to the launch pad and a day of destiny.