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13 Jun 2024 07:47

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No such thing as impossible for the UAE, says astronaut Hazza Al Mansouri to his SIBF 2023 audience

Emirati astronaut and America’s Sunita Williams who have both achieved the remarkable feat of walking on outer space, lead an inspiring talk at Sharjah International Book Fair

Emirati astronaut Hazza al Mansouri and his American counterpart, Sunita Williams, regaled a rapt audience attending “A Star in Space” session at the Sharjah International Book Fair (SIBF 2023) on Thursday evening. With accounts of their experiences in space and the plans of space-faring nations for future explorations of the Moon and Mars, the inspiring talk had both astronauts agreeing that perseverance and belief in one’s self-worth help reach goals.

Al Mansouri said that he had been inspired by a photograph of Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, the first Arab astronaut in space in 1985, that he had seen when he was in school. He never gave up the dream to become an astronaut as he came from a country that “did not know the meaning of the word impossible”, he stated.

The Emirati astronaut spoke about the experiments and training he took together with Sultan al Neyadi, the UAE’s second man in space. He remembered the challenges – living in Russia’s freezing temperatures, learning the Russian language, training with his head upside down to prepare for life in space, being cut off from family, and so on.

The most memorable memories for him were seeing the earth and the UAE from outer space and how peaceful the earth looked, raising the UAE flag, and interacting with His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President, Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai.

When Hazza embarked on the UAE’s first mission to space in 2019, he took with him a copy of HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum’s memoir, My Story, and a book on The Mohammed bin Rashid Science Centre (MBRSC). Both astronauts, trained at NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration), agreed that their military background helped in their space journey and in their ability to work as a team. “You are doing things bigger than yourself. You are a follower and leader at different times,” said Williams, acknowledging that the journey is undertaken on the shoulders of many people.

The two astronauts, who have achieved the remarkable feat of walking on outer space, said space exploration will lead to technological spinoffs, and hence it is necessary to think outside the box to make our planet better for us.

Williams, an Indian-origin American Naval officer, said her family had been extremely supportive of her, especially her husband, who was a helicopter pilot like her. Al Mansouri, who carried the UAE mascot Suhail to space, acknowledged his family’s support and hoped to be a role model and inspire younger generations. “We want more and more diversity,” Sunita Williams exhorted the younger generation gathered in the hall to join the space programme.

“There is no doubt that we are going to be living and working on the moon in the next 15 years,” declared Sunita Williams, who set numerous records in space during her journey in 2007. “The moon is a natural stepping stone and we need to be able to go back to the moon, live there sustainably, so that we understand how to take the next steps to go to Mars.”

The astronaut pointed out that the International Space Station was built because of a dream to do something more than just continue living on earth. She presented a video to explain the missions she had been on, and how spacecraft such as Boeing Starliner and SpaceX Dragon are preparing for further missions next year.

She briefed the audience about the Artemis missions to the moon – Artemis I that was uncrewed, Artemis II that will be the first mission to have people on it, and Artemis III which will have the first woman and man landing on the moon after the 1972 Apollo mission. There will be another space station too, she declared commending on the cooperation that characterises outer space programmes.

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