Dubai: It was a ‘celestial’ display of Emirati hospitality when UAE astronaut Sultan Al Neyadi welcomed his Saudi Arabian counterparts to the International Space Station (ISS) on Monday evening.
The Sultan of Space, who is on the longest Arab space mission aboard the ISS, played a perfect host as he received Rayyanah Barnawi, the first female Arab astronaut, and her colleague Ali Al Qarni to the orbital laboratory.
The first two Saudi astronauts floated into the orbital laboratory along with their Axiom-2 colleagues Peggy Whitson and John Shoffner after their SpaceX Dragon Freedom successfully docked into the ISS, marking yet another milestone in the history of Arab space exploration.
Hours before they docked in, Al Neyadi took to the cupola to shoot a video to show his excitement about welcoming the Saudi colleagues
He posted it on the social media with the caption: “Excited to welcome Ax-2 crew members Peggy Whitson, John Shoffner, Ali Alqarni and Rayyanah Barnawi. The long awaited moment is almost here. In a matter of hours, the Emirati and Saudi flags will fly together on the ISS. Wishing you all the best of luck.”
The Emirati astronaut turned 42 on Tuesday aboard the ISS, en route to setting the record for the longest Arab space mission.
While the hatch of the Freedom spacecraft opened after the successful docking, Al Neyadi could be seen capturing the historic moments on camera his Arab colleagues were entering the weightless atmosphere of the space station over 400km above the Earth.
The Emirati astronaut literally held the hand of his Saudi brother Al Qarni as he guided him into the space station’s Harmony module where his other Expedition 69 colleagues were also present. Al Neyadi greeted with big smiles as Barnawi also floated in, and welcomed the rookie space travellers with water and dates.
During the welcoming ceremony that followed, he was also seen holding a mic when Whitson declared Al Qarni as the 599th astronaut to receive a pin for flying into space.
While Al Qarni expressed his excitement about working with the Expedition 69 crew and sharing their expertise and learning from them, Barnawi highlighted how the gathering of the big fat family of 11 astronauts on the ISS demonstrated how space brings together people from different cultures and academic backgrounds.
Meanwhile, Salem Humaid AlMarri, director-general of Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre, the agency behind the UAE Astronaut Programme, congratulated the Saudi astronauts and highlighted the importance of their union with Al Neyadi on the ISS.
“We congratulate the Saudi Space Commission, and the entire nation, on the successful docking of their astronauts at the ISS. We extend our best wishes to Astronaut Ali Al Qarni and Astronaut Rayyanah Barnawi as they embark on this mission to the ISS,” he said.
“This achievement serves as a notable milestone for Saudi Arabia and marks a pivotal moment in history as it unites three Arab astronauts in space for the first time, including Astronaut Sultan Al Neyadi. The event serves as a powerful inspiration to the global space community, highlighting the profound impact of diversity, innovation, and international cooperation.”