This week, the dreams of Sheikh Zayed, the late founding father of the UAE, were achieved after the country's first Emirati astronaut made it to the International Space Station (ISS).
UAE residents tuned in to watch Hazza Al Mansouri's launch into space on Wednesday evening — and, of course, among those was Dubai's ruler. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum was cycling at the time of the launch, but that didn't stop him from watching history as it was being made.
In a video posted by his son, aka Dubai's Crown Prince Sheikh Hamdan, the Dubai ruler's whereabouts during Al Mansouri's takeoff were revealed. In it, the ruler can be seen wearing a helmet (because safety comes first) in the middle of a cycling track in the desert. He paused his journey, pulled out his phone, and watched the Emirati astronaut become the third Arab to ever make it to space. The video has amassed nearly 750,000 views at the time of writing.
You can see the "amusement" on his face
Al Mansouri's eight-day space mission is as historic for the UAE as it is for the Arab world as a whole. Prior to the astronaut's launch into space, only two others from the region made it to space. These include Saudi air force fighter pilot Prince Sultan Bin Salman Bin Abdul Aziz in 1985 and Syria's Mohammad Faris in 1987.
The 34-year-old astronaut, a former F-16 Block 60 fighter pilot, is, however, the first Arab to make it to the ISS. Al Mansouri has spent much of this year in Russia "undergoing space training and ground survival techniques." He launched into space along with Russian cosmonaut Oleg Skripochka and American astronaut Jessica Meir.
Space exploration has been a goal of the UAE for decades. The UAE's founding father met NASA astronauts twice in the 1980s and hoped that the UAE would become a key player in space exploration. It seems as though the UAE, and Al Mansouri, have been doing a great job in keeping that dream alive.
In 2014, the UAE officially established a Space Agency and set an ambitious goal of launching a probe to Mars. Two years later, the Gulf state and NASA signed a deal to work together to reach the Red Planet.
In 2016, the country set up the Emirates Mars Mission which plans to send an unmanned spacecraft to explore Mars in 2020. The journey is expected to take seven months. One year later, the UAE announced its plans to build the first-ever city on Mars ... in about 100 years. The Mars 2117 project is part of a 100-year national program that focuses on spearheading scientific breakthroughs like the renowned Mars Mission.
Just last year, two Emirati astronauts were selected to fly to the ISS — the first Arabs to get the opportunity to do so. At the time, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid announced that Hazza Al Mansouri and Sultan Al Neyadi will become the country's first-ever nationals to go to space as part of the UAE Astronaut Program. The duo was chosen from a pool of 4,022 contenders who applied for Mohammed bin Rashid Space Center's UAE Astronaut Program, which aimed to find the nation's first astronauts.