Dubai: Arab voice literally resounded in space as the UAE astronaut Sultan Al Neyadi began scripting a new chapter in history on the International Space Station (ISS) on Friday.
The ‘Sultan of Space’ floated into the ISS along with his three crew mates after NASA’s SpaceX Crew-6 Dragon, ‘Endeavour,’ successfully docked at the ISS at 10.40am (UAE time) despite some delay due to hiccups with a hatching hook.
The longest Arab space mission, known in the UAE as “Zayed Ambition 2,” received a welcome to ISS in Arabic with the Mission Control Centre in Houston greeting Al Neyadi saying “Ahlan wa sahlan” (welcome in Arabic) to ISS.
‘Shukran Jazeelan’ from space
Al Neyadi also chose to speak in Arabic first as soon as he floated in to the microgravity environment aboard the space station, thanking everyone by saying ‘Shukran Jazeelan’ first.
As part of the first speech of a Najmonaut (Arab astronaut) on the historic long-duration space mission aboard the ISS, Al Neyadi once again spoke about the UAE “pushing boundaries of exploration.”
His opening remarks during the welcome ceremony went like this. “Luckily, I survived the first stunt!” Al Neyadi said, as he received the mic to speak, making the crew members laugh.
He then spoke in Arabic and added in English: “Thank you everybody for this opportunity. I would like to thank my family, my parents, the leadership in the UAE, the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre that gave me the thrust to conduct this mission.”
“I can’t be happier than this … I mean, seeing all friends in space, gathering as a big family … This is the essence of space exploration. The UAE is taking great steps towards pushing the boundaries of exploration and cooperating with the spacefaring nations to explore more, to seek new endeavours into space. So, again, I said it before, but here again, Go Dragon! Go SpaceX!”
He held the “fifth crew member” of Crew-6 mission, Suhail, in his hand as he spoke. A tiny stuffed toy mascot of the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC), the agency behind the UAE Astronaut Programme, Suhail is accompanying Al Neyadi as the “zero gravity indicator. It is considered as a symbol of celestial bodies’ influence in Arab culture.
It was all smiles and happy faces in the big fat ISS family of 11 space flyers as soon as the Crew-6 members joined the seven-member Crew-5.
After hugging and greeting each other while floating in the microgravity environment, the multicultural crew posed for group photos to freeze the historic moments in the orbiting laboratory forever.
They also heard from top officials of Nasa and the MBRSC during the welcome ceremony.
Kathryn Lueders, associate administrator, Space Operations Mission Directorate, Nasa, welcomed the crew who arrived to the ISS as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Programme in association with Elon Musk’s SpaceX.
“We created a little bit of anticipation for the Crew-6 folks, making it a little bit longer before you got to the station. But as always, it’s so great to see all of you come safely to the hatch, enjoying with the crew members on the station.”
"The next six months will just be packed with very critical events. One of the first critical events is getting the Crew 5 crewmates to come back down to Earth. We are looking forward to all the great science and hopefully a couple of EVAs and some new updates on some new solar arrays…As always, we are super proud of you and looking forward to all the great things that you will be doing.”
Hamad Al Mansoori, chairman of MBRSC, congratulated the four Crew-6 members and the “little astronaut Suhail,” on their successful arrival to the ISS.
“Your mission to space represents a huge milestone for SpaceX, Nasa and the UAE. Crew-6, you have become part of our community back home in the UAE,” said Al Mansoori, who is in the US along with other MBRSC officials.
Representing all Arab nations
Speaking in Arabic, he addressed Al Neyadi as Bu Rashid. “Great to hear that you have safely arrived at the ISS. Our faith in you is great. Today, you not only represent the UAE, but all Arab nations. This marks the beginning of long-term space exploration journeys for Arabs. Please remember the wise words of President His Highness Sheikh Mohamed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, that the UAE and its people stand with you.”
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Additionally, he pointed out that the mission embodies the directives of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai who envisioned that after Hazzaa Al Mansoori, there would be many more to complete the ambitious vision of the country’s founding father the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan.
“I wish you all (a) safe and successful mission,” he added.
Hazzaa Al Mansoori, the first Emirati astronaut who went to the ISS in 2019, is the backup of Al Neyadi in this mission.
Delay and delight
Before they arrived at their new home for the six-month mission, Al Neyadi, along with his crew mates Nasa astronauts Stephen Bowen and Woody Hoburg, and Roscosmos cosmonaut Andrey Fedyaev completed an over 25-hour space flight. Their journey had started with the lift-off of their Falcon 9 rocket from the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida, the US, at 9.34am on Thursday.
Though the Dragon was ahead of schedule to dock at ISS a little earlier in the morning, the docking finally happened at 10.40am here while the station was 260 statute miles over the Indian Ocean off the east coast of Somalia.
Docking was delayed slightly as mission teams completed troubleshooting of a faulty docking hook sensor on the Dragon. The Nasa and SpaceX teams verified that all of the docking hooks were in the proper configuration, and SpaceX developed a software override for the faulty sensor that allowed the docking process to successfully continue.
Prior to the moments of anxiety during the hold at Waypoint 2, the Dragon’s trajectory offered moments of delight to the people in the UAE as the spacecraft flew above the country at 9am. “I do hope Sultan Al Neyadi is paying attention to where he is,” the Nasa TV commentator said.
Following Dragon’s link up to the Harmony module, the astronauts aboard the Dragon and the space station began conducting standard leak checks and pressurisation between the spacecraft in preparation for hatch opening. The hatches opened at 12:45pm here and the Crew-6 members floated in through the Zenith port of the Harmony module.
The Crew-6 joined the Crew-5 of Expedition 68. The crew include Nasa astronauts Frank Rubio, Nicole Mann, and Josh Cassada, as well as Koichi Wakata of JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency), and Roscosmos cosmonauts Sergey Prokopyev, Dmitri Petelin, and Anna Kikina. Some members of Crew-5 are scheduled to depart after the “direct handover” that is expected to last for five days. Crew-6 will then officially begin the Expedition 69 that involves over 200 experiments aboard the ISS.