Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 19 January 2020

UAE astronaut receives Nasa's highest civilian honour

Maj Al Mansouri received the Distinguished Public Service Medal in recognition of his 'distinguished contributions during Expedition 60 aboard the International Space Station'.

Hazza Al Mansouri having breakfast aboard the International Space Station. The UAE's first astronaut received the Nasa Distinguished Public Service Medal in recognition of his service. Courtesy: Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre
Hazza Al Mansouri having breakfast aboard the International Space Station. The UAE's first astronaut received the Nasa Distinguished Public Service Medal in recognition of his service. Courtesy: Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre

UAE astronaut Hazza Al Mansouri has been awarded Nasa's highest civilian honour.

Maj Al Mansouri received the Distinguished Public Service Medal in recognition of his “contributions during Expedition 60 aboard the International Space Station”.

The medal is the highest honour Nasa awards to anyone who was not a government employee at the time they performed the service. Previous recipients include physicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, who received the medal in 2004.

In September, Maj Al Mansouri became the first Emirati to be sent to space, where he spent eight days, and the first Arab to work on the ISS.

He returned home from Russia, where he had spent most of the year training for his mission, to a hero’s welcome in October.

The Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre tweeted a picture of the certificate and medals he received.

Maj Al Mansouri was picked from 4,022 applicants for the first UAE Astronaut Programme after a series of advanced medical and psychological tests.

He recently spoke to The National about the mission, which has inspired a generation of young Emiratis.

“The first time I went to mosque, after returning, I met a couple of kids who asked me about the space mission,” Maj Al Mansouri said.

“The next day I went back and was shocked by the crowds of children there waiting for me and I spent an hour explaining it all to them.”

The scene was replayed during a recent trip to Masdar Park, when he was surrounded by fans clamouring to hear more about his mission.

“Some of the kids there recognised me and I spent two hours answering all their questions,” he said.

“My wife joked ‘that’s it, we’re not going out any more’.”

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, recently launched a search for the next Emirati astronaut and urged men and women with “ambition, energy, and determination” to apply.

About 1,000 applications were received within four hours of the announcement.

Maj Al Mansouri's achievement came after he won praise from a former crew mate on the ISS.

Nasa astronaut Jessica Meir snapped a stunning picture of Abu Dhabi by night and sent a message to Maj Al Mansouri from 400 kilometres above Earth.

The American passed over the capital on board the ISS and posted the image at 3.40am on Friday.

"The very first astronaut from the United Arab Emirates launched to space this year – in the same rocket as me!" she wrote on Twitter.

"Thinking about my new colleagues and friends (@astro_hazzaa & @Astro_Alneyadi) made my view even more spectacular. Goodnight Abu Dhabi!"

Maj Al Mansouri thanked for her the message from space.

"What a fantastic view you have, my friend, I was honoured to work with you onboard the space station. Good night from the Earth."

Ms Meir and Maj Al Mansouri blasted off from Kazakhstan in September, alongside mission commander Oleg Skripochka.

The Emirati returned to Earth with another crew mate, while Ms Meir will stay on until spring 2020.

Updated: December 15, 2019 10:57 AM

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