Moscow: It’s officially a go for ‘UAE Mission 1’.
The Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Centre (GCTC) in Star City, Russia on Thursday morning gave the green light for the September 25 mission that will take the UAE’s first Emirati astronaut Hazza Al Mansoori to the International Space Station (ISS).
The prime crew, led by Russian commander Oleg Skripochka, Nasa astronaut Jessica Meir and Hazza Al Mansoori, were presented to the media on Thursday morning for their final press conference before they are flown to Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on September 10.
Reserve crew led by Russian commander Sergei Ryzhikov, Nasa astronaut Thomas Marshburn and Emirati astronaut Sultan Al Neyadi were also present to answer questions.
The two teams have completed their training at GCTC and will be flying to Kazakhstan on separate planes. There they will participate in astronaut activities until the two-week quarantine period.
At GCTC sporting their military uniforms, Hazza and Sultan looked calm and composed as they addressed questions from the UAE, Russian, and US media. Hazza and Sultan also showcased their proficiency in the Russian language by answering some of the media questions in Russian.
When asked what Hazza would think about or feel during the launch, he said: “A lot of things are happening in my mind right now actually from now till the launch. It’s 20 days from now till our launch. I’ve prepared for this mission but not only from here. It started from my childhood, from how my parents raised me, the confidence I gained from my life, thanks to our leadership for giving me this opportunity today to represent my country,” Hazza said.
“During launch, I cannot tell you now how I would feel then until I experience it. A lot of things will happen. Maybe for me I will try to remember each second of the launch because it will be really important for me to share with my country, with the world and the Arab region that experience,” he added.
During the press conference, fellow astronaut Jessica described Hazza and Sultan as “enthusiastic and genuine” while Commander Oleg described Hazza as “hardworking” during their training.
Sultan, for his part, said they aim to share this enthusiasm for space exploration with the UAE and the Arab youth since the UAE Astronaut Programme is a sustainable one. And there is no time to waste, he said.
“There is a very exciting time ahead of us. Many people are talking about going back to the moon, and going to Mars as well. I think this is a powerful thing to have for the country. The knowledge we can share after returning from these flights to spread the enthusiasm among the youngsters is a very big thing,” Sultan, 37, said.
“Again, if we delay this, it might be too late. So we have to start today. We have to continue the flights to bring the knowledge and spread the enthusiasm.”
Yousuf Hamad Al Shaibani, Director General of the Mohammad Bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC) said, “We are delighted to be seeing the first outcomes of the UAE Astronaut Programme; this is the start of a sustainable programme for space exploration.
“The UAE’s first mission to the ISS is the result of extensive efforts by dedicated individuals and organisations in the UAE, and also the result of important strategic partnerships with major global space agencies such as Nasa, the European Space Agency and of course Roscosmos, who spared no effort in preparing our astronauts and providing them with all the support and training the need,” Al Shaibani added.
Tips for a memorable spaceflight
American reserve astronaut Thomas Marshburn, who is a veteran of two spaceflights, the STS‐127 and Expedition 34/35, had a few tips for Hazza in case he would need them on the ISS if he experiences space motion sickness.
“Certainly, we’ve talked a little bit about the little tricks that all astronauts have about increasing their functional capabilities the moment they get to space. I’m just jealous that I will not be able to be there to be with them and see his face when he sees the Earth from space on the space station. And that will be a very wonderful moment,” Marshburn said.
“We always caution new people to the station to not try to move around too much for a few hours until their heads and their bodies are used to it,” he added.
The physicist from North Carolina said he is confident that Hazza’s eight-day spaceflight will be a memorable one for him.
“It will not be difficult for it to be a memorable trip for Hazza,” he said. “Most important is to take the time, as soon as possible to look out the window, take the photographs that you need for your family and friends. It’s the connection people have through Hazza and through Sultan and their spaceflight experience that I think will be such an important part of their gift back to the earth.”
ISS’ new crew excited about having Emirati food on the space station
During the press conference, prime crew Jessica Meir from Nasa said they are looking forward to the Emirati traditional night where Hazza will share his Emirati food with the rest of the crew.
Three Emirati foods have been prepared for space: the madrooba, a salt-cured fish seasoned with spices, saloona, a traditional Emirati stew, and balaleet, a sweet Emirati breakfast dish of egg and vermicelli.
“I’m actually very excited about it,” said astronaut Jessica, a comparative physiologist. “For me, I really appreciate good food and I love the Russian food as well. So I’m excited to have good variety. And we did actually get to taste the UAE meal prepared for us and it was delicious.”
“We’ve been talking about it a lot. When is it going to be? How many times do we get to eat it? We’re sure excited to share this meal together,” she added.
Commander Oleg said the gathering on the ISS typically happens on Friday nights. There, astronauts get to share their food with other astronauts. They could have it on the Russian segment and the US Orbital Segment.
When asked about the significance of their Mission patch, Oleg said the design was similar to his first patch during his first spaceflight but this time it has his crew mates’ names. Hazza’s surname is displayed in Arabic including the UAE flag, Jessica’s family name and the US flag are also on the patch as well as Oleg’s.
The bird represents their long duration flight, Jessica said, while MC 15 points to the number of their Soyuz mission. The yellow object floating in the background is the ISS.