A nation came together and rolled out the red carpet to receive Emirati astronaut Sultan AlNeyadi, who returned to the UAE desert from where his journey to the stars began. He came home to the warm embrace of his children, a beaming UAE President and Vice-President; proud Crown Princes, ministers and top officials; hundreds of children dressed as astronauts cheering and chanting his name; and the traditional vibes of Emirati beats and dance.
The 42-year-old returned to a hero's welcome at the new terminal of the Abu Dhabi International Airport after accomplishing the longest Arab space mission and becoming the first Arab spacewalker.
Fighter jets painted the skies over Abu Dhabi in UAE colours as AlNeyadi's flight landed on Monday. He stepped off the plane to the love of his three children and father, with whom he exchanged long, warm hugs.
The quartet then accompanied the triumphant astronaut as they walked through the passenger bridge to the airport to a royal welcome. Receiving him at the airport was the UAE President, His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan; and His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai. The two leaders welcomed him home, shared some light moments with him, enquired after his health and planted some kisses on his children's heads.
“I was honoured to join my brother Mohammed bin Rashid to celebrate the homecoming of our astronaut Sultan AlNeyadi,” Sheikh Mohamed posted on microblogging platform X. “The people of the UAE are united in pride for his remarkable achievement, which has further advanced our nation’s space exploration ambitions.”
Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid highlighted how AlNeyadi’s mission was the result of the UAE investing in its people. He vowed to send more astronauts to space, launch more projects and invest in humanity.
AlNeyadi presented the President with the UAE flag that was with him aboard the ISS for 186 days. A visibly emotional Sheikh Mohamed can be seen kissing the national symbol.
Sheikh Mohamed highlighted that the UAE has made great strides in the field of space exploration and stressed the importance of developing the nation’s knowledge economy and the skills of its young people.
The leaders then thanked teams from the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC) and the four UAE astronauts. They appreciated the teams involved in previous missions like the first trip to the ISS; the Emirates Lunar Mission, and the Hope probe to Mars. They also encouraged teams working on the ambitious Mission to the Asteroid Belt and the Mars 2117 programme.
AlNeyadi looked well-rested, with the astronaut saying he is about 90 per cent back to his normal self, following a rehabilitation programme in the US.
He is ready for the next mission, just weeks after landing back on Earth. When asked where he would love to go next, he said: “I am ready for any mission. Personally, I would love to go to the Moon and Mars, if possible.”
Recalling the journey back to Earth in a SpaceX Dragon capsule, he said he saw some beautiful sights.
“My window was facing Earth. I saw the Milky Way. I used to see it from Al Ain when I was a boy. Seeing it from space was like a dream becoming reality.”
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