x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 24 August 2017

Genes in Space winner in Florida to witness her idea take off 

15-year-old Alia Al Mansoori hopes that her winning entry could prove vital to future long-distance space travel. 

The final countdown is underway for Alia Al Mansoori, the UAE’s Genes in Space Winner.

In just a few hours her experiment will be on its way to the International Space Station, on top of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.

The last few days have been a whirlwind for 15-year-old Alia, who has travelled to the Kennedy Space Station in Florida to witness the launch, set for 8.21pm UAE time.

She has seen the historic launchpad where Apollo 11 took off for the Moon, met Chris Ferguson, the commander of the last Space Shuttle mission and seen inside the Boeing workshops where the next generation of spaceships, the Starliner, is being built.

It was the experience of seeing the shuttle Atlantis on display that confirmed Alia’s ambitions. “As soon as I saw the Space Shuttle, I knew exactly what I wanted to do, and that’s go into space,” she said.

Her experiment, which will measure the effect on genetic material in space, has been packed into a Dragon capsule, as part of a resupply mission to the ISS.

The launch has already been delayed, but conditions look good for today, with Nasa estimating that weather conditions give a 70 per cent probability that the countdown will go ahead.

Alia and her family will watch the rocket take off  just two and half miles from the launch pad - the closest distance that is safe.

“I’m more excited then ever,” she said. “Its been a great experience. There are not many people who get to send an experiment into space. I still can’t quite believe it.”

The pupil at Dubai’s Al Mawakeb School, has attracted plenty of attention during her stay in the USA. On Sunday she was interviewed by several Florida news outlets, and has recorded an introduction to Nasa TV’s live broadcast  of the launch will will begin at 8pm UAE time.

That experience was the most nerve wracking of the lot, Alia said. “I  always watch Nasa TV and I didn’t want to mess it up.”

The Falcon 9 is a two stage rocket manufactured by Space X, the company founded by Tesla billionaire Elon Musk and takes its name from the number of engines, which push it to the speed of sound within a minute.

At two minutes and 42 seconds, the nine Merlin engines  will shut down and the second stage engine fires for six minutes to put the payload into a parking orbit.

Around 10 minutes after launch, the first stage of the Falcon returns to the Kennedy Space Centre under its own power, the first rocket to do this. The landing will also be streamed by Nasa.

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Read more:

Emirati girl wins Genes in Space competition — in pictures

Young Emirati is reaching for the stars as she aims to become UAE's first astronaut

UAE Genes in Space winner busy fine-tuning her experiment for blast-off

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On Wednesday morning, the Dragon capsule, containing Alia’s experiment, will be captured by the robotic arm of the International Space Station and docked for unloading.

Dozens of experiments will be joining Alia’s on the trip to the ISS. The  2,200 kilo payload includes research into Parkinson’s Disease by the Michael J Fox Foundation, set up by the Back to the Future actor, who suffers from the disease.

Also on board are seeds for the astronauts to grow, and 20 mice, all to test the varying effects of living in space on organisms.

Astronauts on the ISS will carry out experiments using samples developed by Alia with help from Harvard University and carried out on a machine called a miniPCR, which can replicate genetic material and test it under a number of conditions.

The tests have a number of applications, including researching diseases and also seeing if it is possible to test human genomes in space - something which has never been done before.

The samples will be deep frozen and then returned to Earth at later date in the Dragon capsule, for evaluation.

Alia's journey continues after the launch. She has been invited to New York for an interview with the magazine Teen Vogueand will travel to Canada for a meeting with Marc Garneau, the country’s minister of transport, who is a former astronaut and a veteran of three Space Shuttle missions.