Baikonur, Kazakhstan: September 25 is a defining moment in UAE’s history and a giant leap for this young country.
At 5.56pm, the UAE’s first man will reach space to pave the way for the new season, the new era the UAE is hurtling towards as it builds the foundations of its space programme.
Carrying the torch forward is Emirati astronaut Hazzaa AlMansoori on his first expedition to space, becoming the first Arab on the International Space Station (ISS).
Once in space, Hazzaa will raise the UAE’s flag higher than it has ever been. He will make his country among the few ones who have been on the ISS, the 19th visiting country to be exact, and himself the 240th visitor.
Hazzaa will be accompanied by Russian commander Oleg Skripochka and Nasa astronaut Jessica Meir as they launch to space onboard a Soyuz MS-15 spacecraft from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.
Hazzaa’s journey to space is a milestone as this launch pad is the same site where Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space, blasted off onboard the Vostok 1 spacecraft on April 12, 1961.
On standby and always ready to take over in case the need arises is Emirati reserve astronaut Sultan AlNeyadi. Fellow reserve crew Sergey Ryzhikov and Nasa astronaut Thomas Marshburn are also in the cosmodrome.
Hazzaa’s mission is to inspire the next generation to dream of reaching space once more. His maiden voyage to the cosmos brings an end to the 32-year-long hiatus when the last Arab reached space.
Eight days, 16 experiments
He will spend eight days onboard the largest microgravity laboratory known to man. He will conduct 16 scientific experiments, including the effect of microgravity on his body, conduct a tour of the ISS in Arabic, and host an Emirati traditional night.
Residents may connect with Hazza while on the station as he will conduct four live sessions called space-to-Earth calls or vice versa and a live space call via two-way radio. You may also send your questions on Twitter with the hashtag #AskHazzaa.
But before he goes on his journey, Hazzaa has a long day ahead prior to lift-off.
Here’s what you can expect to happen on September 25:
The day starts with crew members waking up around nine hours before launch, according to a brief by Italian astronaut Paolo Nespoli of the European Space Agency in the last crew launch on July 20.
The Russians are a stickler for tradition. And why not if these traditions have worked well in the past, right?
So as per tradition set through decades, first on the list would be autographing the door of the last room they slept in on their last night on Earth before lift-off.
Following this, the crew will be blessed by a Russian priest on the day of launch. We are not sure if this will push through but whether it is there or not, it is part of tradition.
They will then exit the quarantine facility and step out into the world where family and friends are gathered on either side of the road, cordoned off by security officials. This is to prevent anyone from running to the crew and passing off any bugs or viruses before they leave.
The prime crew and backup crew will then enter their own buses and bid good-bye to their well-wishers. By then, all of them would be wearing a white combination – a special undergarment that they will wear under their Sokol spacesuit.
Then, it’s time to suit up!
Technicians will help them put on the suit, which is their lifeline in case of capsule depressurisation. It’s like the mask that drops from above your seat when you’re on an airplane if it experiences pressure loss. Technicians make sure the suits are leak free and worn properly.
Hazzaa, Oleg and Jessica will then sit in a room behind a glass, with their families on the other side to bid their final good-byes. Roscosmos officials and officials from Nasa and Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre will be there to give their final instructions and well wishes.
You will see the three carrying a box with a tube attached to their suits. That’s just a fan blowing fresh air into their suits to make sure the crew don’t heat up.
Then, Russian commander Oleg will lead Jessica and Hazzaa to the Baikonur Base Commander to officially express that the crew is ready to go. The commander will then give the go ahead and the crew will proceed to their buses.
The crew usually give a final salute and a photo op is done before they board the rocket.
Jessica will go up the stairs first followed by Hazzaa and Commander Oleg will be last. This is the order of the crew’s entrance to the cramped spacecraft.
It is part of tradition for the base commander to kick the crew on the butt as they head up the ladder. We will see if this will happen later today.
After an elevator ride to the top of the nearly 50-meter rocket, Jessica will enter the spacecraft and sit on the left side while Hazzaa will be on the right side. Commander Oleg will be in the middle.
Once inside, they’ll be strapped in. Their knees will have special straps and pulled in tight so they won’t move and accidentally injure themselves. This also prevents them from unintentionally hitting any buttons in the cockpit.
Inside the cockpit, you will see stuffed toys that serve as microgravity indicators. They are usually a toy that comes from the family members or chosen by their sending agencies. Hazzaa’s will be a unicorn stuffed toy given his daughter.
Then, they will wait for lift-off.
WHERE TO WATCH:
Those of us in the UAE can watch the livestream of the historical mission online on the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC) website and Gulfnews.com. Also, catch it live on Dubai TV. MBRSC is also hosting a seven-day space-themed event which you can be part of, by participating inlive video calls and radio chats with AlMansoori. To participate, and to watch his return live on October 3, register with MBRSC + mbrsc.ae/astronauts
Gulf News will be closely following Hazzaa’s trip until he comes back.
You may also watch Nasa’s Official Livestream: https://www.nasa.gov/nasalive or in their YouTube channel.
ZAYED’S AMBITION LIVE VIDEO SESSIONS
Launch: 4.30-6.30pm, September 25
Live calls with Hazzaa AlMansoori:
12.30-3pm, September 27
2-3.30pm, September 28 (Only radio call)
1.30-3.30pm - September 29
11.30-2.15pm - September 30
3-4.35pm, October 1
Landing: 1.30-3.30 pm, October 3