'Little astronaut' Suhail was introduced as the fifth crew member.
Emirati astronaut Sultan Al Neyadi on the International Space Station along with Suhail, the MBRSC mascot for the space mission. Image Credit: MBRSC
Alia Al Theeb

“I know exactly what I want to do when I grow up, I want to be a space engineer!” said my 12-year-old niece, Mahra, as she watched a video clip of Emirati astronaut, Sultan Al Neyadi being brought out of the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft on September 4, returning to Earth after a six-month mission to the International Space Station (ISS).

Becoming a space engineer or working in a space related job, was never a career prospect I would have thought of ever as an Emirati. It seemed as far as Space!

However, today, space has opened up to us to reach and explore thanks to the vision and ambition of our leadership. It was a sign when His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, said: “We have broadened the horizons of our future generations in space”, on astronaut Hazza Al Mansouri's return to Earth, following his eight-day stay at the ISS in 2019. A few years after, the UAE sent its second astronaut on the longest Arab space mission in history.

Knowing what one wants to become in life at this early stage in life is something I find interesting and inspiring. I had no idea what I wanted to do until I was in university and had to choose a specialisation that would decide my future. To be able to inspire enthusiastic young Emiratis and attract their attention to a whole new horizon is amazing and an achievement in itself.

Amazing feeling of pride

We watched from home as Sultan embarked on his journey, wearing a pressure suit, to the ISS. And as he bade goodbye to his family and children, there was an amazing feeling of pride, seeing one of us, an Emirati, heading to space again, this time for a longer mission carrying the dreams and hopes of his nation.

On the day Sultan left, each one of us felt like one of his family members, the youngsters excited and proud, the elders praying for his safety. Our elderly neighbour, Um Ali, was visiting on the day and watched with us. She remembered the times when they used to look at the stars and wonder what could be beyond that desert sky.

She said: “I always wondered what is beyond the sky. It was a curiosity. I am happy to see it now once Sultan reaches and shows us what's there."

Sultan didn’t disappoint her or anyone else.

He took all of us on a space journey

His time in space was the most exciting and engaging because of his regular posts and videos about life in space. He kept everyone interested and eager to learn more and more as the days passed by. He actually gave a different “twist” to the ordinary coverage of a space mission.

UAE astronaut Sultan Al Neyadi reveals what he wants to do first when he returns to Earth from International Space Station
UAE astronaut Sultan Al Neyadi reveals what he wants to do first when he returns to Earth from International Space Station Image Credit: Screengrab

His posts varied between sharing photos of different cities with interesting, sometimes touching captions as the ISS passed over them. He had something for everyone, from the US and Brazilian cities, to Arab cities and capitals, to Gulf countries all the way to Singapore and Japan. Sultan made sure we got glimpses of various international cities and how they appeared from space. He embodied the UAE’s values of peace, humanity, coexistence and respect to all.

In his first appearance in a press conference by NASA after his return to Earth, Sultan said sharing everything he did, talking to students and the engagement with people through his captures of Earth was a big part of his mission.

Heroic return

The day of Sultan’s arrival back to Earth after six months wasn’t an ordinary day. The anxiousness of waiting for his safe landing kept us glued to the live coverage on the phones as we headed to the office that morning. I could see people in nearby cars watching the historic arrival. It was the feeling of a family member coming back after a long time, but not just from anywhere, from space, and not just an ordinary return, but a return that at least can be called heroic.

As he was being carried out of the spacecraft, everyone around me was cheering and saying “Al Hamdulilah”, “Praise to God”. I felt so proud and lucky to be able to witness this moment live.

The trust that our leadership always places in its youth makes it a mission for all of us to achieve even more.

As the UAE celebrates the return of a hero, we get to witness a historic moment, one that’s here to last and one that is a beginning of more inspirations to come.

You made us proud, Sultan. Welcome home!