Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashed al-Maktoum announced Hazza al-Mansouri, 34, and 37-year-old Sultan al-Neyadi, who were selected from over 4,000 candidates that applied for the UAE astronaut programme, as the first two Emirati astronauts.
We announced today our first astronauts to the International Space Station: Hazza Al Mansouri and Sultan Al Nayadi. Hazza and Sultan represent all young Arabs and represent the pinnacle of the UAE's ambitions.
Congratulations to the people and youth of the Emirates pic.twitter.com/UNqRXdtsjS— HH Sheikh Mohammed (@HHShkMohd) September 3, 2018
In 2017, Sheikh Mohammed had vowed to send four Emirati astronauts to the space station within five years.
Mansouri and Neyadi, who were chosen after a rigorous six-stage vetting procedure, will be trained in Russia and one of them will be joining a crew of a Russian commander and an American astronaut in Soyuz MS-12 spaceflight, which is planned to launch in April 2019.
The UAE has its sights set on space with a programme worth 20 billion dirhams (USD 5.4 billion), according to Sheikh Mohammed.
The first Arab in outer space was Saudi Arabia’s Sultan bin Salman Al-Saud, who flew on a US shuttle mission in 1985.
In the long-term, the UAE says it is planning to build a “Science City” to replicate life on Mars and aims to create the first human settlement on the red planet by 2117.
(With inputs from agencies)