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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 13 December 2018

'You can do it': Nasa chief astronaut's space message to Dubai teenager

Alia's dreams of going to space encouraged from team on International Space Station

Veteran astronaut Peggy Whitson on board the International Space Station. Whitson worked on the experiment of Genes in Space winner Alia Al Mansoori before returning to Earth earlier this month. Whitson, who has spent more time in space than any other woman, also sent a message of support to Alia.
Veteran astronaut Peggy Whitson on board the International Space Station. Whitson worked on the experiment of Genes in Space winner Alia Al Mansoori before returning to Earth earlier this month. Whitson, who has spent more time in space than any other woman, also sent a message of support to Alia.

Genes in Space winner Alia Al Mansoori’s ambition to become the first UAE astronaut has won the backing of the woman who has spent more time in space than any other.

Nasa astronaut Peggy Whitson sent a message to the Dubai teenager from the International Space Station where she was working on Alia’s experiment to test what effect space flight has on genes.

Chief Astronaut Whitson holds a number of records, including first woman commander of the ISS, and the oldest female astronaut, at the age of 57.

She congratulated 15-year-old Alia for winning the first international Genes In Space content, which was sponsored by The National, adding: “I hope that you will continue your pursuit of the sciences in order to reach your goal of becoming an astronaut.”

While on board the ISS, Ms Whitson, who has a background in biochemistry, ran Alia’s samples through the miniPCR thermal cycler, which copies DNA.

A video shows her repackaging the samples after removing them from the machine and returning the package to storage on the space station.

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She also tells Alia that she is proud of the teenager’s accomplishment, adding: “I am especially thrilled about your interest in biosciences since that interest is where my space journey also began.”

Alia’s experiment was flown to the ISS in August, with Al Mawakeb School and her family watching from the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida as the Falcon rocket was launched.

The teenage has said that as well as becoming an astronaut she hopes to become the Emirati to set foot on Mars. Since winning the competition, her life has been transformed. Following the launch she flew to New York for an interview with Teen Vogue magazine, then met with Space Shuttle veteran Marc Garneau, now Canadian transport minister.

Earlier this month she was the guest of Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces on a visit to the new Louvre Abu Dhabi.

The SpaceX Dragon supply capsule is due to return to Earth on September 17, with a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of California at around 18.14 UAE time, although it has not yet been confirmed if Alia’s experiment will be on board.

Ms Whitson left the ISS and returned safely home on September 3, but footage of her with Alia’s experiment was delayed after Nasa’s Houston control centre was disrupted by the powerful Hurricane Harvey.