Throughout history, Arabs have pioneered many industries and made historic discoveries – from algebra and archaeology, to fire and wine. Recently, however, one realm that they have kept clear of is the ‘space race’, which has been historically dominated by the US and Russia.

Now, for the first time in history, an Arab astronaut – Emirati major Hazzaa AlMansoori – travelled aboard the International Space Station (ISS) with the intention of conducting scientific experiments for the duration of eight days.

The first photo captured by Hazzaa AlMansouri on board the ISS. Courtesy of AlMansouri

He blasted off from Kazakhtan on September 25 in the Russian Soyuz-MS 15 spacecraft, and has captured his first photograph from aboard the station yesterday.

The UAE has been active in the global space industry, most notably since 2017, with the establishment of Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre, which is manufacturing and operating observation sites, and is creating plans for future advanced space projects.

Sheikh Zayed with three American astronauts in 1976. Courtesy of The National.

Its launch of the UAE National Space Programme was their first step towards finding astronauts prepared for the mission, and AlMansoori underwent months of grueling training.

But even before then, in the 1970s, the founding father of the UAE, Sheikh Zayed, had been setting up meetings with American astronauts and observing models of space shuttles that would later become historic.

AlMansouri [left] with Russian commander Oleg Skripochka and US astronaut Jessica Mier. Photo courtesy of EPA.

AlMansoori carries along with him the country’s flag, palm seeds from Dubai to plant on the ISS – a symbol of the ‘year of tolerance’ in UAE – and Emirati food, which will be shared with the other astronauts, Russian commander Oleg Skripochka and US astronaut Jessica Meir.

Before AlMansoori, there have only been two Arabs to fly into space:  Prince Sultan bin Salman Al-Saud of Saudi Arabia, who flew in the US Space Shuttle in 1985, and Syrian astronaut Mohammad Faris who made a space flight in 1987, as part of a joint Syrian-Soviet mission.