Watch: Sultan AlNeyadi returns home to UAE, receives hero's welcome; as it happened

The UAE President, Vice-President received the astronaut at the new Abu Dhabi International Airport


Nandini Sircar


Sahim Salim


Ajanta Paul


Rahul Gajjar

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Published: Mon 18 Sep 2023, 5:17 PM

Last updated: Thu 23 May 2024, 12:13 PM

Emirati astronaut Sultan AlNeyadi is back, and the UAE can’t keep calm! A grand welcome has been prepared for the 42-year-old who completed the longest Arab space mission.

Dubbed #SultanHomecoming, the ceremony will see AlNeyadi — the first Arab spacewalker — return to the desert from where it all began. Stay tuned to Khaleej Times’ digital and social media platforms as our journalists on the ground bring you all the action live.

7:35pm: I want to sleep

When asked how he would like to spend time with his family after returning to Earth, AlNeyadi responded by saying that the first thing he wanted to do was sleep. He wants to enjoy some well-deserved downtime and relax.

7:30pm: Team work

Sultan AlNeyadi, responding to a question, said, "We have an incredible team working behind the scenes. The mission is not solely about one person's journey into space; it is a testament to the collective efforts of our entire nation."

7:27pm: 'Sultan of Space' to Al Mansoori

Sultan AlNeyadi is honoured to have been bestowed with the title of the 'Sultan of Space,' but he believes that the title should rightfully belong to Hazzaa Al Mansoori, who is UAE's pioneering astronaut to venture into space.

7.15pm: 'Don't die, don't kill anyone...'

We are ambassadors of UAE in space so we have to do everything perfectly, said AlNeyadi, in response to a question about how important it was for him to represent Arabs and Emiratis through his mission. "My other target was to show how committed we are."

We have three targets in space, he added with a twinkle in his eye: "Not to die, not to kill anybody (maintain the safety of the vehicle) and, lastly, maintain the science. I'm happy to announce everything was successful. So, yes, showing that we are determined to be a good participant on space flights [was important to me]."

7pm: Investing in people

His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, taking to X wrote, "With my brother Mohammed bin Zayed, President of the State, I received Emirati astronaut Sultan AlNeyadi to the homeland after his 6-month stay on the International Space Station, becoming the first Arab astronaut on a long mission in space.

"The arrival of Sultan AlNeyadi represents a major milestone in the UAE’s scientific development process and signifies a bright future in the UAE’s ongoing journey of investing in its people, a mission initiated by our founders and one that we continue today.

"We will continue to send more astronauts from our young men and women... and we will continue to launch more scientific, research and exploratory projects in space and on Earth, and we will continue to invest in humanity, and in faith, trust and empowerment for our sons and daughters."

6:55pm: UAE united in pride

The UAE President, His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, taking to X (formerly Twitter), expressed his profound pride and joy in welcoming AlNeyadi.

He wrote: "I was honoured to join my brother Mohammed bin Rashid to celebrate the homecoming of our astronaut Sultan AlNeyadi. The people of the UAE are united in pride for his remarkable achievement, which has further advanced our nation’s space exploration ambitions."

6:53pm: Next to the Moon?

Does Sultan AlNeyadi want to walk on the Moon? The astronaut has answered the question, saying he is ready for any mission.

“Our first mission was in 2019 and it’s now 2023 … There may be journeys to the Moon or the International Space Station (ISS) and we are ready for any journey,” he said.

The astronaut had earlier mentioned that among the first things he did on landing back on Earth was tell a top official: "We need to go to the Moon."

6:51pm: 'Achieved remarkable milestones'

Responding to a question, Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC) Director General Salem Al Marri said, "Sultan has achieved remarkable milestones, and the dedication he and Hazza exhibited during their extensive five-year training is commendable.

"We thank them for their unwavering commitment, recognising that living away from family for such an extended period is no small sacrifice. The success of this mission underscores the collaborative efforts of countless individuals at different stages of the journey."

Recalling their first meet after Sultan's space journey, Al Marri said, "He asked the question, "What's next?...the Moon?"

Rest assured, we are working on our strategies, and in due time, the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC) will announce its plans.

6:47pm: AlMansoori happy to see Sultan

The UAE's first astronaut Hazzaa AlMansoori was very happy to see AlNeyadi smiling after landing back on Earth.

“We thank God for his safe return. This (mission) wasn’t easy and we are very proud of Sultan. We have now gained a lot of knowledge,” he said.

6:43pm: 90% back as before

Sultan AlNeyadi has described the feeling of standing up on his feet after six months as he landed back on Earth earlier this month.

“As our spacecraft landed, they had to pull me up from my seat. Thanks to Hanan AlSuwaidi (flight surgeon), who helped me stand up,” he said.

He said he is about 90 per cent back to his normal self, weeks after splashing down off the coast of Florida.

6:40pm: AlNeyadi speaks

The presence of UAE leaders at the #SultanHomecoming event signifies how important going to space is, astronaut AlNeyadi has said.

“I feel happy and privileged,” said AlNeyadi in his first public remarks after landing in Abu Dhabi. “It took 17 hours to reach Earth from space; and 16 hours from Houston to Abu Dhabi.”

Recalling the journey to Earth in a SpaceX Dragon capsule, he said he saw some beautiful sights.

“My window was facing the Earth... I saw the Milky Way. I used to see it from Al Ain when I was a boy. Seeing it from space was like a dream becoming reality.”

6:06pm: Media address

At the new Abu Dhabi International Airport, a palpable sense of anticipation filled the air as media personnel gathered to hear from the Emirati astronaut. Cameras and microphones were poised, ready to capture every word and emotion of the hero astronaut.

AlNeyadi will be accompanied by pioneering astronaut Hazzaa Al Mansoori and Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC) Director General Salem Al Marri as they address the journalists, followed by a Q&A session.

5:55pm: Hero's welcome

Hundreds of children, holding up posters of AlNeyadi and dressed as astronauts, welcomed him along with the other three UAE astronauts. In a heartwarming scene of jubilation, children dressed in traditional Emirati clothing eagerly shake hands with their hero and welcome him back home. Sporting a garland, AlNeyadi is seen giving hi-fives to the children. He then proceeds to meet and greet elders assembled at the airport.

5:47pm: #SultanHomecoming event

All four UAE astronauts are part of the #SultanHomecoming event. Accompanying AlNeyadi is the first UAE astronaut, Hazzaa AlMansoori and the two who are currently training with Nasa: Nora AlMatrooshi and Mohammed AlMulla.

5:45pm: In conversation with leaders

Sultan can be seen smiling and in conversation with the UAE leaders. Meanwhile, the media is awaiting to greet Sultan AlNeyadi at a separate section of the new terminal.

Seated between the UAE President and Vice-President, AlNeyadi is seen deep in conversation with the UAE leaders. The 42-year-old has often spoken about how the UAE leaders inspire him and are his role models.

5:40pm: The Rulers meet

The UAE President, His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan; and His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, received the astronaut at the Abu Dhabi airport.

AlNeyadi gifted the UAE flag he took to space to Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed.

Both leaders are interacting with AlNeyadi and his family. AlNeyadi's little ones are seated next to the UAE President, with the leader's arm around one of them.

5:35pm: Gift from space

AlNeyadi gifted the Suhail plushie he took to space to one of his sons. The little one can be seen holding on to the plushie as he moves around the airport with his hero father.

5:30pm: Warm hugs

Ready to greet AlNeyadi as soon as he stepped out of the presidential plane were his three children and his father, with whom he exchanged long, warm hugs. The quartet then accompanied the triumphant astronaut as they walked through the passenger bridge to the airport.

5:25pm: 'Jet-setting' welcome

Fighter jets painted the skies over Abu Dhabi in UAE colours as Sultan AlNeyadi's flight landed.

5:22pm: Welcome home

Emirati astronaut Sultan AlNeyadi is home. The presidential plane, carrying the astronaut, lands at Abu Dhabi International Airport. A giant screen live-streaming his journey back home shows his aircraft taxiing on the runway.

5:20pm: Larger-than-life tribute

Dominating the facade of the airport terminal building, a colossal billboard displays a picture of Sultan AlNeyadi. The larger-than-life tribute to his historic mission faced the tarmac, symbolising national pride and the country's support for its pioneering astronaut.

5:17pm: Euphoric atmosphere

The mood is euphoric as hundreds gather at the new Abu Dhabi International Airport to greet Emirati astronaut Sultan AlNeyadi. While the crowd eagerly anticipates his arrival at the terminal, numerous children and performers in traditional clothing were spotted rehearsing drumming and traditional Emirati chants to extend a warm welcome to the longest Arab resident of space, often referred to as the “Sultan of Space.”

Before boarding the flight to the UAE, AlNeyadi posted a picture of the aircraft and the group he travelled with. Astronaut Hazzaa Al Mansoori, Nora Al Matrooshi and Mohammed Al Mulla, who are part of the second cohort of the UAE Astronaut Programme, are accompanying AlNeyadi. They are also being joined by several high-ranking officials from the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC).

5:15pm: Historic homecoming

In a historic homecoming, Emirati astronaut Sultan AlNeyadi will touch down on UAE soil any moment from now, marking the triumphant end of an extraordinary journey that has captured the imagination of a nation and the world.

A trailblazer, Sultan AlNeyadi, made history by becoming the first Arab astronaut to embark on a long-term space mission and achieve the remarkable feat of completing a spacewalk during his six-month stay aboard the International Space Station (ISS).

As he returns home today, his accomplishments stand as a testament to the UAE's commitment to space exploration and the boundless aspirations of its people.


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