The two Emirati astronauts during their Winter Survival Training, during which they braved the brutal weather of an unpopulated Russian forest on their own. Image Credit: Courtesy: Dubai Media Office

Dubai: The UAE will make history when it sends the first Emirati astronaut to raise the UAE flag on the International Space Station (ISS), officials said on Monday.

A three-man crew including one of two Emirati astronauts — either Hazza Al Mansouri or Sultan Al Neyadi — will lift off in a spacecraft to the ISS for an eight-day mission, officials of the Mohammad Bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC) announced on Monday.

The Soyuz-MS15 spacecraft will blast off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Expedition 61/62, returning to Earth aboard a Soyuz-MS 12 on October 3.

“For the first time, an Arab astronaut will travel to the ISS, so that the Arab youth can repeat the accomplishments of their ancestors who excelled in science and mathematics,” Yousuf Ahmad Al Shaibani, Director-General of MBRSC, said.

“This step also supports the aspirations of Emiratis, and their determination to achieve the vision of the UAE’s leadership, and support the UAE in exploring space and preparing national cadres to contribute to enriching scientific progress...” he added.

In their first public appearance since being chosen as the first Emirati astronauts in September, Hazza and Sultan were in high spirits as they shared how their passion for space exploration started.

“My passion for space is a childhood dream and I am realising it now,” Hazza, 35, a military pilot, said. “I will be one of Zayed’s sons to make history for Zayed’s people.”

Yousuf Hamad Al Shaibani, Director General, MBRSC, Salem Humaid Al Marri, Assistant Director General, Science and Technology Sector, Head of the UAE Astronaut Progamme, and Emirati astronauts Hazzaa Al Mansoori and Sultan Al Neyadi, during the press conference to announce the date of the Emirati astronaut’s trip to the International Space Station (ISS) at Armani Hotel in Dubai. Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan/ Gulf News

Sultan said he was seven years old when his dream to reach space began.

“I was excited about the idea: ‘Will I really become an astronaut someday?’ Perhaps it’s a crazy idea, I thought,” Sultan, 37, who also served in the military, said.

Destiny led him 28 years later to apply as an astronaut when the programme was launched in 2017.

Asked who between the two will be the primary astronaut to fly to the ISS, Salem Al Merri, Assistant Director-General for Scientific and Technical Affairs at MBRSC, said the final announcement will be made in May and the criteria in choosing the primary candidate are confidential.

“They have completed 50 per cent of their training. They will be in training until the day they fly. We will announce the primary candidate in May,” Al Merri said.

Emirati astronauts Hazzaa Al Mansoori and Sultan Al Neyadi, during the press conference to announce the date of the Emirati astronaut’s trip to the International Space Station (ISS) at Armani Hotel in Dubai. Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan/ Gulf News

But Hazza had an answer to insistent journalists.

“I will tell you,” Hazza said. “The flag will go,” proudly pointing to the UAE flag patch on the left sleeve of his blue training suit. The crowd erupted in cheers.

“Our passion for this country to be the leader in this sector, inshallah, will go [to the ISS]. Both of us have prepared for the mission. If you ask me, personally, honestly, I want to be the first. And the same would be the case for Sultan. But the national objective is higher than our personal ambitions, and we will make sure that our dreams for the country and our ambitions will reach space.”

Sultan, for his part, said: “We’re doing everything the same way — we eat the same food, we go to the same flat every day, we study in the same classroom. So I’ll be stuck with this gentleman until the end. We are one team and we have one mission — to raise the UAE flag [in outer space].”