Emirati astronaut Sultan Al Neyadi touched down in Abu Dhabi aboard the presidential flight, amidst fanfare and nationwide celebrations after spending six months on the International Space Station. 

Fighter jets lit up the skies as the UAE President His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan and His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President, Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai, jointly welcomed Al Neyadi home.

Amidst the warm welcome from his children, VIPs and dignitaries, the astronaut also presented the UAE President with a flag that he carried with him to space. Hazza Al Mansouri, the first Emirati to travel to space, was also present to welcome Al Neyadi.

Landmarks across Abu Dhabi were lit up on Sunday night in celebration of Al Neyadi’s historic return, which was broadcast live by the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre.

“From the start of the 5-year preparations for the mission to spending over 180 days in space, this has been the experience of a lifetime. After returning to Earth, it’s time to come home. I look forward to seeing you all tomorrow in our beloved UAE,” he posted on X, formerly known as Twitter.

Al Neyadi splashed down on Earth on September 4 aboard a SpaceX Dragon capsule, along with three other astronauts. After returning to shore, the crew was set to fly to NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.

As the first person from the Arab world to spend an extended period in orbit, Al Neyadi’s journey saw him spend 184 days aboard the space station and complete 2,976 orbits around Earth. 

For the UAE, Al Neyadi’s journey marked a major milestone in the country’s investment in the space sector, which has already surpassed the AED22 billion.

(Writing by Bindu Rai, editing by Seban Scaria)