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First Arab on ISS returns to earth following eight-day mission

UAE's Hazzaa al-Mansoori becomes the first Arab astronaut to complete a mission to the International Space Station
United Arab Emirates' astronaut Hazzaa al-Mansoori waves before boarding a Soyuz rocket to the International Space Station (ISS) at the Russian-leased Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on 25 September 2019 (AFP)

The first Arab to reach the International Space Station (ISS) has returned to earth on Thursday following a short but historic mission to the orbital lab.

Hazzaa al-Mansoori, from the United Arab Emirates, touched down in the Kazakh steppe at 6:59am ET (1059 GMT) after spending eight days at the ISS, NASA confirmed. He went onboard the ISS on 25 September with two crewmates, Russian cosmonaut Oleg Skripochka and NASA astronaut Jessica Meir.

Reuters UAE Mansoori Landing ISS
UAE astronaut Hazzaa al-Mansoori, US astronaut Nick Hague and Russian cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin after landing in Kazakhstan on 3 October 2019 (Reuters)

For his return on Thursday, Mansoori was travelling in a Soyuz spacecraft along with United States’ NASA astronaut Nick Hague and Russia’s Roscosmos cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin, who both survived a failed launch to the ISS last year. 

While the 35-year-old Emirati’s mission lasted just over a week - much shorter than the 203 days that Hague and Ovchinin spent at the ISS - he made the most of it by sharing his experience on social media throughout his space expedition.

Tweeting in both English and Arabic, Mansoori kept his followers updated on his life in space and posted stunning photos taken from the ISS showing landmarks such as Mecca, Islam's holiest site, and cities in the UAE including Abu Dhabi. 

The former pilot was selected from thousands of applicants to be the first Emirati astronaut onboard the ISS, but he’s not the first Arab to have been to space. 

Before the Emirati, two other people from Arab countries had travelled above earth’s surface. Sultan bin Salman al-Saud of Saudi Arabia was the first Arab and Muslim to go into space with a NASA space shuttle mission in 1985. Two years later, in 1987, Muhammed Farsi from Syria went to the Russian MIR space station.

AFP Mansoori launch celebration UAE
People wave Emirati national flags as they watch screens showing a Soyuz MS-15 spacecraft lifting off from Kazakhstan carrying 35-year-old Emirati astronaut Hazzaa al-Mansoori. (AFP)
AFP Mansoori space Dubai launch
A picture taken on 25 September 2019 shows the Gulf emirate's Burj Khalifa, the world's tallest skyscraper, lit with an image of 35-year-old Emirati astronaut Hazzaa al-Mansoori. (AFP)

Mansoori’s trip is evidence of the UAE's growing ambitions in space. The country aims to send an unmanned probe to orbit Mars by 2021 to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the founding of the state.