UAE says its first astronaut to be sent to space in September
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UAE says its first astronaut to be sent to space in September

Gulf nation to join Middle East astronaut club that includes Saudis, Syria and Israel

UAE astronauts Hazzaa Al Mansouri (right) and Sultan al-Neyadi. (Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre)
UAE astronauts Hazzaa Al Mansouri (right) and Sultan al-Neyadi. (Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre)

The United Arab Emirates announced Monday the first astronaut from the Gulf Arab nation will go into space on September 25.

The Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre said the country will send either Hazza al-Mansouri or Sultan al-Neyadi to the International Space Station on board a Russian Soyuz rocket.

UAE officials had previously said they’d announce which of the astronauts would be going, but instead gave just the launch date.

Dubai’s ruler, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, announced the astronauts’ names last September.

The UAE has a fledgling space program with big ambitions. It launched its first locally made satellite, KhalifaSat, in October from Japan. It wants to launch a probe to Mars in 2020.

Officials of the UAE’s Mohammed bin Rashid Space Center with astronauts Hazza al-Mansouri (second from right) and Sultan al-Ennadi (right) at a press conference February 25, 2019. (Mohammed bin Rashid Space Center)

In 2017 the UAE said it wants to colonize Mars by 2117, with a fully functioning city of 600,000 people that will be built by robots. That announcement countered a previous ban by Islamic authorities in the country who issued a fatwa prohibiting Muslims from participation in a manned voyage to the red planet.

Sheikh Mohammed, the UAE’s vice president and prime minister, last year vowed to send four Emirati astronauts to the space station within five years.

The UAE has its sights set on space with a program worth 20 billion dirhams ($5.4 billion), according to Sheikh Mohammed.

The astronaut program would make the UAE one of only a handful of states in the Middle East to have sent a person into space, as it looks to make good on a pledge to become a global leader in space exploration.

The first Arab in outer space was Saudi Arabia’s Sultan bin Salman Al-Saud, who flew on a US shuttle mission in 1985. Two years later, Syrian air force pilot Muhammed Faris spent a week aboard the ex-Soviet Union’s Mir space station.

Israel’s first astronaut, Ilan Ramon, died in the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster on February 1, 2003. Following a successful 15-day mission, the Columbia broke up on reentry killing Ramon and six American crew mates.

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