Baikonur: The UAE’s first Emirati astronaut Hazza Al Mansoori said he will rely on almighty God for his mission to the International Space Station (ISS) on Wednesday, adding that he is “not alone” as millions of Arabs are with him “in their hearts”.
The prime and reserve crew for the September 25 mission met with media at the Cosmonaut Hotel in Baikonur, Kazakhstan on Wednesday, to discuss their thoughts and last-minute details about the mission.
Prime crew Emirati astronaut Hazza Al Mansoori will lift-off to the ISS at 5.56pm on Wednesday onboard the Soyuz MS15 spacecraft with Russian commander Oleg Skripochka and Nasa astronaut Jessica Meir.
Backup crew Sultan Al Neyadi is on standby with fellow reserve Russian commander Sergey Ryzhikov and Nasa astronaut Thomas Marshburn.
The two crews answered questions as they sat in a room behind a glass partition that separated them from the media as part of quarantine procedures.
When asked what Hazza would say before lift-off, his eyes lit up.
Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space, has the famous line “Poyekhali” which is Russian for “Let’s go!” and Neil Armstrong, the first man on the moon, said “Houston, we have lift-off.”
Hazza said as part of his culture, he entrusts everything to God, and said he thought his first line would be, “Tawakal na ala Allah,” which is Arabic for “We rely on the name of the almighty Allah.”
The crowd erupted in applause.
When the crew was asked if they had family and friends here in Baikonur to witness the launch, Jessica said her mum, three sisters, her brother and brother-in-law, including officials from NASA.
For Hazza, he has millions.
“For me I think it’s a huge number--more than a million,” he said. “The whole arab region is with me. The whole country is with me. They are with me in their hearts. So I’m really proud.
“I had a lot of messages from the entire world from the Arab region wishing me good luck, have a nice mission and come back safely. So I think everyone is with me, especially my wife, my brothers.”
Among those who messaged Hazza are school children who sent their well wishes through Gulf News last weekend. Many of them said they have been inspired by Hazza and hope they would meet him one day.
Hazza also thanked his role model, his teacher Khalid Al Jabri from the Khalifa Bin Zayed Air College in Abu Dhabi.
“He taught me a lot. I invited him especially to come here because he gave me trust in my career and a reason to be here. So thanks to him,” Hazza said.
Hazza worked as a military pilot for 14 years, flying the F-16 jet before becoming an astronaut.
This also makes him a “perfect fit” for the job, said Jessica, who is flight engineer one for the mission.
“He has the perfect background for this job being a military pilot like all of our original astronauts, in the US as well. But he brings this sense of enthusiasm and motivation that all of us have - we’re always laughing together, smiling together.”
Jessica said Hazza and Sultan have achieved and proven so much during their training for the mission.
“One of the things I said to my colleagues in Nasa when they asked how they were, what they were like, my response was always, “They’re amazing. They would fit perfectly in our office. They would fit perfectly in any astronaut or cosmonaut corps that we have. That’s really quite an achievement given that their programme is so new and given the training that they received. So they’re a natural fit.”
She said their team is truly diverse but there’s one thing they share the most and it’s “Runglish” or a mix of the Russian and English language. Jessica said she’s still working on her Arabic but Runglish works for now.
The astronauts also shared interesting and funny stories during their year-long training at the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Centre in Star City, Russia.
Sultan in jest shared the story behind his photo that won the hearts of many people - when he shared his photo of him smiling while “subduing” the Sokol space suit using a rear choke technique.
He said he and Hazza were just having fun that day during their Sokol spacesuit fit check
So he did the rear choke technique on Hazza but did not take a photo as the act could be taken out of context and some people could think he was hurting Hazza to take his place in the mission.
Hazza, for his part, shared the incident when they became astronaut-turned-fire fighters for a day.
“We had a training on the ISS mockup doing our daily routine, anticipating what we were going to do onboard the station. And I was a little bit alert because I knew there would be an emergency scenario. So I caught it first and I shouted, “Pajar! Pajar!” (Russian for fire). We distributed the mask and “I think we saved the the day that time!”
As for praying in space, Hazzaa said it wouldn’t be a problem as he has already prayed on a jet. Though the ISS and fighter jets are different, he believes he will be able to do it with no issues
Hazza ended the press conference with a selfie with the crew and the media in the background before leaving the hotel.