As the nation rolled out a red carpet for its son who made it proud, it was none other than His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, who walked out to the tarmac to welcome back Hazzaa AlMansoori. There was a roaring applause and cheers of delight as Hazzaa, sporting a scarf with UAE flag colours, walked into the welcome area where he met other sheikhs, officials, and dignitaries who were waiting for his return. Even hours before Hazzaa, the first Emirati in space, stepped out of his homecoming aircraft in Abu Dhabi's Al Bateen airport, the mood of the nation was top of this world - euphoric and full of pride. From animated kids on the street to excited men and women in offices, malls, and cafés, everyone was waiting with bated breath for Hazzaa's return to his homeland.
The festivities haven't really stopped since September 25, when the Soyuz MS-15 took off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome to dock, six hours later, at the International Space Station, making Hazzaa the first Emirati and the first Arab to visit the giant floating laboratory orbiting the earth. And yesterday, as he returned after successfully completing his space mission and etching his country's name among the stars, Hazzaa was accorded a hero's welcome. From students urging their colleges to introduce space-focused curricula and imploring Hazzaa to visit their campuses to children pestering their parents to get them replica space suits, the frenzy surrounding the UAE's pursuit for space exploration is reaching a crescendo of sorts. What's more, a robot named 'Hazzaa' was seen spreading the message of tolerance, love, and peace in the capital yesterday.
"Zayed's ambition lives on," he tweeted yesterday as Hazzaa left the Star City in Moscow Oblast, but not before thanking the city and a galaxy of Russian organisations and individuals who helped make that dream a reality. "I would like to thank this city, its people, GCTC (Yuri A. Gagarin State Scientific Research-and-Testing Cosmonaut Training Center) at Star City and the Roscosmos team who trained and prepared me to become the first Emirati astronaut." Hazzaa's historic flight has not only made the UAE and its citizens - both young and old - space conscious, but it has also cemented the Emirati-Russian bonds and added a new dimension to the friendship between the two great nations.
The vision, ambition, and inspiration behind Hazzaa's space odyssey was all Emirati, but it was a Russian rocket that helped fire that imagination into space. Russian President Vladimir Putin's two-day state visit to the UAE is all set to further bolster the diplomatic, strategic, and economic ties between the two countries. The UAE has shared a close relationship with Russia for decades, with the countries establishing diplomatic ties within the first week of the foundation of the federation in 1971. Last year, the UAE and Russia upgraded their ties to a strategic partnership, extending their cooperation objectives to various sectors such as politics, security, economy and culture, along with cooperation in the humanitarian, scientific, technological, and tourist domains.
Russian officials have now confirmed to Khaleej Times that the space pioneer is exploring a collaboration with the UAE for use of its territory to launch space satellites. As such a partnership takes off and develops into an even deeper affiliation, the two are bound to take giant leaps in space cooperation. The down-to-earth Hazzaa may be back to enjoy the gravitational pull of the earth, but Putin's visit to the country will ensure that UAE-Russia ties soar into space and beyond.
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