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As merely 11 days are left for the first-ever Emirati astronaut to embark on a milestone mission to space, Emiratis are awaiting for the countdown with great excitement.

Maj Hazza Al Mansouri, a 34-year-old former military pilot, along with his standby Sultan Al Neyadi, has already reached Kazakhstan to board a Soyuz-MS 15 spacecraft on September 25 at the Baikonur Cosmodrome for an eight-day space mission.

"Our objective is to inspire the next generation and to let them know that nothing is impossible. This is what we learned and this is what we're doing now," Al Mansouri was quoted as saying by the media in July, while addressing Nasa's live news conference along with his crewmates Nasa astronaut Jessica Meir, and Russian commander Oleg Skripochka of Roscosmos.

"This mission is a great milestone for me personally and for my country, the United Arab Emirates, and for the whole Arab region in general. As we know for the past 30 years there has been no astronaut from our region," Al Mansouri added. "And today I'm really proud and honoured to have this privilege to represent the Arab region to the ISS."

Echoing a similar view, Dubai Vice President and Ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum recently tweeted that Hazza and Sultan represent all young Arabs and represent the pinnacle of the UAE's ambitions.

Al Mansouri, a father of four young children, was graduated from the Khalifa Bin Zayed Air College, and is a qualified F-16B60 instructor pilot and a demo pilot, who was also one of the first Arab and Emirati pilots to take part in the Dubai Air Show's celebrations of the 50th anniversary of UAE Armed Forces.

In fact, the UAE's Astronaut Programme started almost two years ago, when Sheikh Mohammed launched an initiative to find the country's first ever space traveller. As many as 4,022 people of varying ages ranging from 17 to 67 were in the fray. After several rounds of interviews, tests and training programmes, two were finally selected for the coveted mission to take an astronaut to the International Space Station (ISS).

While Al Mansouri was announced as the prime astronaut in April, Dr Al Neyadi, a 38-year-old doctor of information technology and former engineer for the UAE Armed Forces, was selected as his backup.

Intense Training

Both of them have undergone intense training and studied Russian in Moscow for the mission ahead, which was a key requirement to be able to communicate with ground control and fellow crew members.

Like any other training for space travellers, both of them had to undergo vigorous physical exercise and spent time in a human centrifuge, which provides the ability to simulate microgravity and Earth's gravity onboard the space station.

After a year of more than 1,400 hours of training and 90 courses, Al Mansouri had also completed his pre-spaceflight medical.

Although the mission was initially scheduled in April 2019, it was postponed to September 25, 2019 following a launch accident of the Soyuz MS-10 spacecraft on in October 10, 2018.

Now the arrival of the duo in Khazakstan marks the beginning of their two-week quarantine to ensure that they are in tiptop condition for the launch on-board the Soyuz MS-15 spacecraft.

In the two weeks before the mission, the prime and backup crews will be confined to a containment area and denied access to the outside world for ensuring their safety.

Al Mansouri will be carrying 10kg of cargo, including the country's flag, thirty Al Ghaf tree seeds, Emirati food and a photo of his family, to space.

Scientific Experiments

He will stay for eight days on the station to conduct 16 scientific experiments during his mission. Six of these will be conducted in microgravity, aboard the ISS, the results of which will be compared with those done on earth.

The reaction of the human body to space will be studied before and after the trip, which will be the first time this kind of research has been done on an astronaut from the Arab region.

It seems that Dr Al Neyadi will be next in line as he was promised the next spot on a UAE mission to space.

As Al Mansouri will be the first Arab astronaut to go to space and the UAE will become the 38th country to send someone to space, the mission not only represents a historical milestone for the UAE but for the Middle East as whole.