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People watching UAE first astronaut Hazza Al Mansoori going to space at MBRSC inn Dubai. 25th September 2019. Photo: Ahmed Ramzan/ Gulf News Image Credit:

Dubai: Emiratis and expats gathering at Dubai’s Mohammad Bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC) celebrated the UAE Mission 1 to the International Space Station (ISS), launched from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Wednesday.

Also present at MBRSC to observe the historic moment was Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammad bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai and chairman of MBRSC.

People from all walks of life — students, families and officials — cheered as the first Emirati prime astronaut, Hazzaa Al Mansoori, blasted off to space, making history as the first Arab astronaut.

“Our country has taken a giant step towards implementing the vision of our leadership," said Ahmad Belhoul Al Falasi, Minister of State for Higher Education and Advanced Skills and Chairman of the UAE Space Agency. "This mission reflects the ability of Emiratis to undertake ambitious missions that support the global effort to create a better future for humanity and develop solutions for current and future challenges.”

Guests took videos and photos from their mobile phones and waved UAE flags as scenes from the mission unfolded on screen.

Al Mansoori’s mission is to conduct science experiments in microgravity at ISS before returning to Kazakhstan after eight days.

On MBRSC grounds, air-conditioned tents were set up, housing large screens showing live footage of the mission and commentary by experts on national TV.

Officials and videos shown at MBRSC narrated some details of the mission, as well as earlier programmes of the UAE Space Agency and the ongoing Mars probe Hope project.

Speaking on stage, Amer Al Ghafri, senior director at MBRSC, told guests: “He (Al Mansoori) will carry the inspiration of Zayed (UAE’s founding father) to space ... You are representing the spirit of our generation and nation, under the leadership of the UAE.”

Abdulla Al Shehhi, 29, an Emirati bachelor of media studies who had driven around two hours from Abu Dhabi to watch the proceedings at MBRSC, said: “It’s a day of national pride and happiness for the UAE. Al Mansoori has inspired people like me and others to reach for the stars. The sky is not the limit for the UAE.”

‘Nervous and excited’

Krithika Krishna, an Indian grade two student of The Indian High School in Garhoud, said she was “nervous and excited” moments before lift off. Her feelings turned to joy for “our second home” — the UAE — after the successful launch, shortly before 6pm.

“I’m super excited now. I will follow the mission until (Al Mansouri) is back home. I really love space,” she said.

Her mom Simi Thripti said Krithika had stayed up all night to follow developments of India’s recent moon mission, Chandrayaan 2.

“I registered her for the MBRSC event today and brought her here. It was really fantastic. I’ve been living in Dubai for 14 years and this was a historic chance to see such an accomplishment from our second home,” Thripti said.

Two teachers from Deira International School in Dubai who had met Al Mansoori and his backup, Sultan Al Neyadi, at Emirates Airline Festival of Literature earlier this year in Dubai, said they felt “proud to be a part” of the UAE’s race to space.

Year 3 teacher Claire Houghton said: “My students are super excited that I’m here at MBRSC today and I can’t wait to tell them all about it tomorrow (Thursday). They saw it on TV and we have a topic in our school, Race to Space, based on the namesake book by MBRSC.”

Houghton added that her students had been counting down the days — and learning about the space mission — before the launch, and would continue to follow and study the mission.

Year 6 teacher Emily Gott added: “We are all proud of the UAE’s momentous, historical and successful launch to space. It was really great to see it live with the community at MBRSC.”