|21 July, 2019

How UAE astronaut will bid farewell to family before launch

It's just 65 days to go until the Emirati astronaut blasts off to space on the Soyuz MS-15 for his eight day journey

Image used for illustrative purpose. With the Earth in the background, the SpaceX Dragon commercial cargo craft is seen as it is grappled by the International Space Station's Canadarm2 robotic arm in this photo provided by NASA and taken May 25, 2012. .

Image used for illustrative purpose. With the Earth in the background, the SpaceX Dragon commercial cargo craft is seen as it is grappled by the International Space Station's Canadarm2 robotic arm in this photo provided by NASA and taken May 25, 2012. .

REUTERS/NASA/Handout

The last time UAE's first astronaut will interact with his family before liftoff will be through a thick glass wall, about three hours prior to the launch to the International Space Station. Hazza Al Mansoori will be saying goodbye to his four children and wife from quite a distance.

The quarantine is one of many regulations astronauts and cosmonauts have been following since the first man was launched into space in 1961. In fact, they are kept away for several days ahead of the launch, including residing at the historic Cosmonaut Hotel in Baikonur, which is the quarantine quarters for men and women going into space.

This is to prevent any harmful bacteria or chemicals that could jeopardise the mission, the ISS or the crew they'll be joining on the station.

It's just 65 days to go until the Emirati astronaut blasts off to space on the Soyuz MS-15 for his eight day journey. The few days leading up to the launch consist of several routines he must follow as part of Russia's space traditions and requirements.

Khaleej Times was in Baikonur this weekend, covering the Soyuz MS-13 launch on July 20, which coincided with Apollo 11's - the moon landing mission - 50th anniversary.

Speaking to media from quarantine, Luca Parmitano, the Italian astronaut on this mission, said: "It is an amazing coincidence that we are launching on a special day. Obviously we do feel lucky and privileged that we can celebrate this event in such a glorious way."

The American astronaut, Andrew R Morgan, said: "I think that Nasa and the US have proven a number of times that they are capable of pretty incredible things. But I know that what we do here is part of an international cooperation. And right now we are completely focused on the mission ahead of us - to fly to the ISS based on international cooperation."

Astronauts and cosmonauts follow a tight schedule ahead of the launch, including putting flowers down in Moscow in honour of the first man to go to space, Yuri Gagarin; planting trees at Baikonur's Cosmonaut Grove and holding a press conference a day before the launch.

KT followed these astronauts on their scheduled tasks in Baikonur, including when they had their last moments with their families before take off.

The astronaut and cosmonaut sit behind a glass wall and put their space suits on. The only people allowed on the other side are family members, officials and selected members of the press.

Right after, they have to walk out and give a salute to a high-ranking official, usually the Roscosmos chief and the top engineer. Then, they wave to the public, media and family members and get on the bus which takes them to the launch site.

It's this moment, aside from the actual lift off, that often creates historic photographs as the astronaut waves the final goodbye to his or her emotional, but proud, young children and spouses from the window of the bus.

Previous photographs have shown family friends lifting the astronaut's wife or child on their shoulders so they can have a clearer, final, look at their loved one going to space.

Even though there is a low rate of space-related incidents, there is still the element of fear. On Parmitano's last mission in 2013, a water leak in his helmet nearly drowned him as he was carrying out a space walk.

On October, 2018, the crew on the Soyuz MS-10 mission made a ballistic re-entry into Earth after the boosters failed to separate properly.

Al Mansoori has already said he'll be taking a family photograph as one of the personal items the astronauts are allowed to take onboard the Soyuz. His biggest fan is also his nine-year-old daughter who gives him a countdown to the launch on a daily basis.

Al Mansoori had told KT earlier this month: "My family is really excited and thrilled about my launch. They are counting down the days. My daughter called me yesterday and said, 'Dad, you have 73 days to go.' So, she's been counting. I'm really excited and I will make sure I share the whole experience with them, and not just with my kids but with the kids of the whole Arab region. I think astronauts have a strong influence on the next generation and it's our job to do that."

The family, officials and the media stand about 1.5km to 2km away from the launch site. The crew on the Soyuz MS-13 mission launched at about 8.27pm (UAE time). Al Mansoori's liftoff time has not been announced as officials wait for the most suitable launch window on September 25.

Where is Baikonur?

Baikonur is a city in Kazakhstan that has been leased to Russia until 2050. The agreement is so that Roscosmos, Russia's space agency, can continue their space programme from there. Baikonur is home to the world's oldest spaceport and is the location from Yuri Gagarin was sent to space in 1961. The Emirati astronaut will also be launching from the same location on September 25.

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