The frenzy of excitement started in December 2017 when His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, announced the launch of the UAE Astronaut Program. Though I might not be an Emirati, as an aspiring planetary scientist who has grown up here, I have always taken pride in the huge strides this country has taken in this realm of space, science and technology. During the months that followed, my Instagram feed was filled with information from the Mohammad Bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC) and about the new astronaut programme — the educational and physical qualifications, what to expect if selected, and the perks of being an astronaut. And the response to all of that? More than four thousand applicants. The number is enough testimony to the interest of the Emirati population. One thing I was really amazed to see was the speed of the selection process — within a span of weeks, nine candidates were selected to go to Russia for the final set of medical tests by experts from the Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training.

The two candidates, Hazza Al Mansouri and Sultan Al Niadi, are the first Arabs to go to the International Space Station (Nasa). They will be an inspiration for young Arabs in the region. Not only the candidates, but the whole team involved right from the conception of the program to the selection of the candidates teach us a lesson in perseverance. As with the success of many other ambitious projects in the country, the visionary leaders have imbibed energy and inspiration in the team at MBRSC and collectively, the UAE Space Agency to work and leave their mark.

- The reader is an undergraduate researcher