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Open policies launch UAE into outer space, international fold

By Sultan al-Barei in Riyadh

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Roscosmos rescue team members and UAE specialists carry Emirati astronaut Hazzaa al-Mansoori shortly after the landing of the Russian Soyuz MS-12 space capsule south-east of the Kazakh town of Dzhezkazgan on October 3rd. [Dmitri Lovetsky/POOL/AFP]

Emirati astronaut Hazzaa al-Mansoori is being hailed as a national hero for his role in bringing the UAE a step closer to realising its dreams of space exploration.

Al-Mansoori, a 35-year-old former military pilot, is the first Arab to reach the International Space Station (ISS).

After spending eight days there, al-Mansoori touched down October 3rd in the Kazakh steppes along with NASA astronaut Nick Hague and Roscosmos cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin, who both survived a failed launch to the ISS last year.

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People raise three fingers signifying "win, victory and love" and wave Emirati national flags as they watch screens showing the Soyuz MS-15 spacecraft lifting off from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan carrying 35-year-old Emirati astronaut Hazzaa al-Mansoori, who spent eight days aboard the International Space Station, at Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre in Dubai on September 25th. [Karim Sahib/AFP]

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UAE astronaut Hazzaa al-Mansoori and NASA's Jessica Meir take a selfie on September 21st, four days before their launch into space. [Jessica Meir/Twitter]

Roscosmos footage from the landing site in central Kazakhstan showed al-Mansoori smiling as he sat wrapped in an Emirati flag after leaving the capsule.

Hague and Ovchinin completed a 203-day mission aboard the orbiting laboratory while al-Mansoori's two crewmates from his September 25th launch -- Russia's Oleg Skripochka and NASA's Jessica Meir -- are staying on as part of a six-member team.

Although al-Mansoori's mission was short, it has been the source of great pride in the UAE, a newcomer to the world of space with ambitions to send an unmanned probe to orbit Mars by 2021.

It is also an example of the progress the UAE is making in science and technology, while Iran faces difficulties due to policies that serve the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps' (IGRC's) ambitions in the region at the expense of the Iranian people, observers say.

A step forward for Arab space exploration

Abu Dhabi's Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan hailed the space mission and its significance for the whole region.

"The arrival of Hazzaa al-Mansoori to space is a message to the Arab youth... that we can progress and move forward," Sheikh Mohammed tweeted September 25th.

Al-Mansoori's launch is only just the beginning of the UAE's dreams of space exploration, said Amer al-Ghafri, a project manager at the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre.

"There are a lot of ambitions and a lot more work," he said.

The astronaut programme would make the UAE one of only a handful of states in the Middle East to have sent a person into space.

The first Arab in outer space was Saudi Arabia's Sultan bin Salman Al Saud, who flew on a US shuttle mission in 1985.

Two years later, Syrian air force pilot Muhammed Faris spent a week aboard the Soviet Union's Mir space station.

Open policies bring progress

For many in the region, the collaborative nature of the latest mission -- with astronauts from the US and Russia -- also represents progress for the UAE on a larger scale.

Many people think US co-operation in the Middle East, especially with the Gulf States, is only in the military and security sectors, while in fact this co-operation has many aspects that have helped these states make quantum leaps in various scientific and economic fields, said Ajman University faculty of law professor Khalid al-Zubi.

"Perhaps the most striking evidence is the UAE’s success in sending the first Emirati astronaut into space in co-operation with the US and Russia," he told Al-Mashareq.

This proves that "scientific co-operation transcends all political hurdles and allows for the transfer of scientific knowledge and tremendous progress... so future generations may reap the benefits of these actions", he said.

"UAE astronaut Hazzaa al-Mansoori is the product of the policy of openness and the desire for progress pursued by the UAE, and which corresponds to the wishes of most countries in the region that want the wellbeing of their people," he said.

Countries that do not have open policies are suffering in this regard, he said. For example, policies pursued by the IRGC are causing the country to slide backwards.

"The inevitable outcome of scientific decline is social decline, which the Iranian people will suffer from for a long period of time," he added.

A scientific boom

The Gulf States "are experiencing a social and scientific boom, while Iran, a scientifically advanced country, is regressing as a result of the IRGC's policies", said retired UAE army officer Abdullah al-Ameri.

Iran has only produced advanced versions of intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of carrying internationally banned nuclear materials, he told Al-Mashareq.

"These programmes will be, and some already have been, internationally sanctioned," he said. "Therefore, the biggest and only losers are the Iranian people who were deprived of this qualitative leap that would have brought many benefits to them, especially openness to the world and not living in complete isolation as a result of the IRGC's policies."

The UAE is determined to pursue "a policy of total openness that ensures the wellbeing of its people", al-Ameri said.

The partnership agreements forged with the US are perhaps "the key to success of this monumental step, not only in the history of the UAE, but also the history of the Gulf region as a whole", he said.

Iranians pay price for IRGC policies

"The world has become [like] a small village, and therefore any country that breaks away from the international fold will be a loser in all areas," said Abdullah al-Dakhil, a lecturer at King Saud University's faculty of political sciences in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

"This is what happened and is happening in Iran's case," he said.

Because of the lack of political openness and military trust, Iran will lose out on all aspects of co-operation with major countries such as the US, Russia, Japan and European countries, he said.

"It will take [Iran] decades to restore the trust it lost before it is allowed to return to the international fold," he told Al-Mashareq.

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