Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 February 2020

Hazza Al Mansouri on why Emirati food tastes different in space

UAE astronauts Hazza Al Mansouri and Sultan Al Neyadi made an appearance at the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature

Second left to right: UAE Astronauts Hazzaa AlMansoori, Sultan AlNeyadi and Salem AlMarri from the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre appear at the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature. Courtesy: Saeed Saeed
Second left to right: UAE Astronauts Hazzaa AlMansoori, Sultan AlNeyadi and Salem AlMarri from the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre appear at the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature. Courtesy: Saeed Saeed

If you are not fond of spices, then the only way to truly appreciate an Emirati meal is in space.

This delicious insight was shared by astronaut Hazza Al Mansouri, the first Emirati in space, during his appearance at the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature on Saturday.

Joined by fellow Emirati astronaut and Al Mansouri's back-up Sultan Al Neyadi, as well as Salem Al Marri, the assistant director general for Scientific and Technical Affairs from the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre, the trio shed light on the experience of the historic 8-day space mission in October last year.

While the physical and mental preparations were arduous, Al Mansouri explained that once he was up in space there was some time to play as well as work.

“I love superman so the ability to just float in space really brought out that child in me,” he said.

That sense of joy, he said, was shared by his fellow crew mates.

One of his favourite moments of the mission, Al Mansouri stated, was sharing an Emirati meal with the others on board the Soyuz MS-15 spacecraft, including Nasa astronaut Jessica Meir and Russian commander Oleg Skripochka.

Balaleet from Frying Pan Adventures' National Day food and culture crawl courtesy Frying Pan Adventures
Balaleet from Frying Pan Adventures' National Day food and culture crawl courtesy Frying Pan Adventures

On the menu was balaleet (an Emirati breakfast staple of sweetened vermicelli served with an omelette on top), salona (chicken stew) and madrooba (a savoury thick oatmeal).

When it comes to why his crew mates “loved it and wanted more”, Al Mansouri said it was down to both flavour and science. “Because of the fluid shift [that comes from being in space] our sense of taste decreases slightly. And since our food has a lot of spices, the food was very delicious for them.”

The shared meal was a small moment of the frivolous in what was an intense period during and leading up to the space launch.

Both Al Mansouri and Al Neyadi credit their respective training in the UAE air force and military for providing them with the mindset to succeed.

“That was a key factor,” Al Neyadi states. “It teaches you to believe in yourself and that accumulative experience of leading a healthy lifestyle, maintaining a physical and mental readiness and having a mind-set that can handle tension and emergency made me progress very well.”

While the extensive physical preparations were well documented, Al Mansouri explained that the weeks leading up to the mission also took an emotional toll.

He recalled a deeply poignant moment when he and Al Neyadi were placed in quarantine for the two weeks leading up to the space launch. They were basically locked in a secure facility in Kazakhstan to protect them from any viruses, and Al Mansouri says it was emotionally wrenching to communicate with his wife and four children from a distance.

“It was really difficult for me because I can see them but I couldn’t hug them,” he said. “I could only see them through the glass and talk to them. It was difficult for me to do this and keep smiling.”

Despite that ordeal, Al Mansouri was adamant that his four children, one daughter and three boys aged between 10 and 3 years old, witness the space launch.

“It was important not only for them but the new generation because if they witness it they will be inspired,” he said. “That energy will be them for the rest of their life.”

Updated: February 8, 2020 04:05 PM

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