My comrade: Russian cosmonaut hails UAE's first man in space

Hazza Al Mansouri and his fellow crew members are gearing up for their September 25 journey to the International Space Station
Hazza Al Mansouri with fellow crew members, Russian cosmonaut Oleg Skripochka and NASA astronaut Jessica Meir. EPA  

History-making Hazza Al Mansouri has been hailed by his fellow crew members as preparations gather pace for the UAE's maiden mission to space.

Maj Al Mansouri will rocket into the record books when he blasts off in a Soyuz craft destined for the International Space Station on September 25.

The high-flying 35-year-old has proved a hit with his fellow space travellers during intensive training in Russia in recent months.

Alongside compatriot Sultan Al Neyadi, who is part of the back-up crew for the milestone voyage, he has embraced a tough training regime and quickly mastered Russian, a requirement of the mission.

During a press conference packed with reporters and cameraman at the Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Centre, the rapport between Maj Al Mansouri and his crew mates, Nasa astronaut Jessica Meir and Russian commander Oleg Skripochka was clear as they spoke warmly of his contribution.

"Both Hazza and Sultan assimilated into the training, learning Russian extremely quickly, " said Commander Skripochka.

"They met each task with endeavour and humility creating an extremely positive experience."

Dr Meir, previously an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School, is looking forward to sampling the Emirati cuisine to be served on board.

Maj Al Mansouri will host a food night for crew mates on board the International Space Station — offering canned and liquefied versions of the nation's best-loved dishes.

"I'm a real foodie and I love great food," she said. "We have all done the food tests and have sampled the Emirati meal we will be served. I can honestly say I am really looking forward to it."

Maj Al Mansouri is technically a cosmonaut rather than an astronaut, as this is term used by the Russian Space Agency, the body which has overseen his training.

In the year since he was announced as the UAE's first man to fly into space, he has happily taken on the mantle of responsibility.

Appearing cheery and calm, he does not appear to a man for whom the weight of a nation's expectations is weighing heavily.

The UAE's first astronaut Hazza Al Mansouri with fellow Emirati Sultan Al Neyadi, who is part of the back-up crew for the International Space Station mission. EPA    

He spoke of the pride he had in the fact he had learned his craft at the space centre named after the first man to journey into space.

"I would like to thank everyone at the Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Centre for their support, their hospitality and their expertise," said Maj Al Mansouri, speaking in Russian.

"I also want to thank all the people of Russia for welcoming us into your beautiful country and giving us this wonderful experience."

Maj Al Mansouri, 35, will be placed in quarantine with the rest of the main and back-up crews for two weeks to ensure they are free of germs or infections ahead of the mission.

Maj Al Mansouri will spend eight days aboard the ISS, returning to Earth on October 3, at 4.48pm.

Both he and Mr Al Neyadi hope it is just the start of a rich adventure for the UAE's space programme.

First step space, with the Moon and Mars on the horizon in the years to come.

Updated: September 9, 2019 01:12 PM

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