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Family friends of Al Neyadi: Ali Al Ahbabi (centre), with his sons Humaid Ali Al Ahbabi (right) and Awad Ali Al Ahbabi, at their residence in Al Ain Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan/Gulf News

Abu Dhabi: Emirati astronaut Sultan Al Neyadi returned to the UAE today, on a special plane landing in Abu Dhabi.

Many miles away, in his hometown in Umm Ghafeh area of Al Ain, well-wishers had arrived beforehand. Al Neyadi is expected to come home tonight.

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Entrance to the Al Neyadi family villa Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan/Gulf News

It’s easy to know where he lives - a giant portrait of the space hero dominates the entrance to the Al Neyadi family villa. 

Also out of the ordinary is a long tent that will fill up with guests and welcomers.

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Once Al Neyadi comes home, dozens of people will gather to greet the spacewalker at this receiving area set up for well-wishers Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan/Gulf News

Decades-long bond

In Umm Ghafeh, long-time family friends of Al Neyadi - who completed the longest Arab space mission and is the first Arab to perform a spacewalk - spoke to Gulf News about a deep sense of achievement the astronaut has instilled in the UAE community.

Ali Al Ahbabi, 93, a well respected poet and education activist, said: “May Allah bless Sultan Al Neyadi with more success. He has made the people of Al Ain, the UAE and the Arab World very proud. We pray more success to him and his family. He is like my son, for his father Saif and I have known each other for decades. Sultan Al Neyadi’s achievement makes me proud like my son has achieved the success.”

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Ali Al Ahbabi Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan/Gulf News

Awad Al Ahbabi, son of Ali Al Ahbabi and an engineer by profession, recalled his friendship with Al Neyadi.

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Awad Al Ahbabi Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan/Gulf News

“We used to play together long time ago. Our family takes immense pride in the safe return of astronaut Sultan Al Neyadi to Earth. Indeed, the safe return of astronaut Sultan Al Neyadi to Earth fills us with tremendous pride. His journey beyond our planet is a testament to human exploration and achievement.”

Awad’s brother, Humaid Al Ahbabi, who works for a government entity in Abu Dhabi, was also present at his father’s majlis in Al Ain where celebrations were brewing for the return of the spacewalker.

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Humaid Al Ahbabi Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan/Gulf News

“We have been following his journey in space and massive efforts he took for all the research and experiments in space onboard ISS [International Space Station]. He has made Al Ain, Abu Dhabi, UAE and the Arab world so proud. At home, we did a cake cutting in the presence of the entire family,” Humaid said.