DUBAI: The UAE on Monday named its first two astronauts to go on a mission to the International Space Station.
Emiratis Hazza Al-Mansouri, 34, and 37-year-old Sultan Al-Neyadi were selected from more than 4,000 candidates who applied for the UAE astronaut program.
The UAE’s Vice President and ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum, said the duo will “raise the bar of ambitions for future Emirati generations.”
Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, said: “Just as there is no limit to space, there is no limit to our ambitions. We have great confidence in our sons in carrying on excellence.”
The two men were among nine candidates chosen for a final evaluation phase after they underwent an “intensive assessment” in Russia, by experts from the Russian space agency Roscosmos.
The UAE’s state news agency WAM hailed the step as a “historic achievement for all Arabs.”
One of the astronauts will fly into space in April, on a 10-day Russian mission to the International Space Station aboard the Soyuz MS-12 spacecraft. The second astronaut will be in reserve.
Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid last year vowed to send four Emirati astronauts to the space station within five years.
We announced today our first astronauts to the International Space Station: Hazza Al Mansouri and Sultan Al Nayadi. Hazza and Sultan represent all young Arabs and represent the pinnacle of the UAE's ambitions.
Congratulations to the people and youth of the Emirates pic.twitter.com/UNqRXdtsjS
— HH Sheikh Mohammed (@HHShkMohd) September 3, 2018
“We also have Dh20 billion investments in the space sector. More importantly, we have human resources whose limits are higher than the sky,” Sheikh Mohammed said in Monday’s announcement.
The UAE has already announced plans to become the first Arab country to send an unmanned probe to orbit Mars by 2021, naming it “Hope.”
The astronaut program would make the UAE one of only a handful of states in the Middle East to have sent a person into space, as it looks to make good on a pledge to become a global leader in space exploration.
The first Arab in space was Saudi Arabia’s Prince Sultan bin Salman Al-Saud, who flew on a US shuttle mission in 1985. Two years later, Syrian air force pilot Muhammed Faris spent a week aboard the Soviet Union’s Mir space station.