The UAE's first astronaut Hazzaa Al Mansouri left a mark not only in space but on planet Earth, too.
On Sunday, Abu Dhabi-based Khalifa University granted the astronaut its first-ever honorary doctoral degree, The National reported. Al Mansouri received the honors at a graduation ceremony for over 400 students in the Emirati capital. The event was attended by several top officials, including Minister of State Dr. Sultan Al Jaber and Minister of Education Hussain Al Hammadi.
The chairman of Abu Dhabi Crown Prince's Court, Sheikh Theyab bin Mohamed, handed the spaceman his degree and congratulated him on his achievements. Just weeks ago, the astronaut officially became the first Emirati to launch into space on an eight-day journey to the International Space Station (ISS). Since his arrival back to Earth, he has been lauded by the country's rulers and has been dubbed a hero.
Al Mansouri's historic trip made headlines all over the world last month. After months of preparation and intensive training, the astronaut boarded the Soyuz MS-15 spacecraft along with Russian cosmonaut Oleg Skripochka and American astronaut Jessica Meir.
He documented his entire trip on camera and even had a video call with school students and media professionals who contacted him from the ground station at the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC) in Dubai.
While in space, Al Mansouri carried out 15 scientific experiments and captured images from space. He also dressed up in traditional attire (kandoora) and hosted a traditional Emirati food night on board the spaceship. Throughout his journey, the astronaut sustained himself on a halal menu made up of canned and liquified versions of the UAE's most popular dishes.
Al Mansouri's time in space was quite exceptional
Al Mansouri made sure to go public with his daily spacecraft routine, revealing that one can shower and sleep on a spaceship while floating. He also described the view of the UAE from space as the "most beautiful" thing he's ever experienced.
One of the first people who contacted the astronaut during his trip was none other than Dubai Ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum. The royal was thrilled with the call and described Al Mansouri's launch to the ISS as "only a first bold step into space for UAE."
The UAE has long been planning for Al Mansouri's trip
Last year, Al Mansouri and his colleague Sultan Al Neyadi became the first Emiratis and Arabs to get the opportunity to go to space as part of the UAE Astronaut Program. At the time, Dubai's ruler explained that the duo was chosen from a pool of 4,022 contenders.
The UAE has long been aiming for space.
In 2014, the country 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.