Expo 2020: My friends used to laugh at my space dreams, says Hazzaa Al Mansoori

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Hazzaa AlMansoori made history as the first Emirati to reach space. File photo
Hazzaa AlMansoori made history as the first Emirati to reach space. File photo

Dubai - Mission to the Red Planet an odyssey about nation-building, top official says.


Nandini Sircar

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Published: Mon 18 Oct 2021, 12:02 AM

Last updated: Mon 18 Oct 2021, 1:09 PM

When Hazzaa AlMansoori was growing up, being an astronaut seemed pretty impossible.

“Imagine standing in front of your friends, trying to tell them about your ultimate dream of becoming an astronaut — and the feedback that you get is laughter. Everyone is laughing at you. That was me 15 years ago,” said the UAE icon during the flagship Space Week event at Expo 2020 Dubai.

“They said it’s not going to happen in this country… it’s impossible. I was disappointed, but I kept with me a small space shuttle. I tried to be the best pilot possible. Then, in 2013, they announced the first batch of the astronauts corp. That opened many doors,” he said.

Two years ago, Hazzaa made history as the first Emirati to reach space, spending eight days on board the International Space Station (ISS). Recently, he and fellow Emirati astronaut Sultan Al Neyadi completed their first year of training at the US space agency the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

“All the trainings have been tough but enjoyable,” Hazzaa said.

“I remember the time when we were close to our launch. At that stage in Baikonur, we really had to be very careful. After we finished two weeks of our quarantine, we had to watch out for everything,” he recalled.

When you’re out there in space, however, he said, there is "nothing" like watching our planet.

“This amazing planet gives everything to us for free, from oxygen to water, because up there, it is really expensive and precious. It makes you feel that we all have to work together to save Earth.”

Building the future

The UAE’s historic mission to the Red Planet is an odyssey about nation-building — creating a future for the youth of the country and the region, a top official said on Sunday as the mega fair kicked off its Space Week.

“The UAE Government wants more Emiratis to go into science programmes and to have more career paths for the scientists,” said Omran Sharaf, project director of the Emirates Mars Mission (EMM).

“In a country like the UAE, where over 200 nationalities live, every single one contributed to putting the country’s name around Mars. The message is: Let’s be better integrated with the global system and let’s make scientists and engineers part of this journey to build the region.”

Before the EMM, Sharaf said, UAE universities had very limited science programmes.


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“His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, said ‘your job is not to just make this mission reach Mars. You, as a team, will lead the change in this nation. I want to see disruptive change in the academic sector, disruptive change in the minds of the Emirati youth, disruptive change in industries and all other critical sectors in the UAE’,” he recalled.

Building an advanced science and technology sector is critical for the future of the UAE, Sharaf said.

“We want to have an innovative, creative and competitive knowledge-based, post-oil economy,” he added.

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