Dubai (AFP)

The take-off of the first emirati astronaut sent into space, Hazza al-Mansouri, was celebrated with cheers and applause on Wednesday in Dubai, where many Emirati attended this historic event on a big screen.

At the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Center, dozens of Emiratis of all ages stared at the images of this air force pilot who became a national hero, boarding the Soyuz spacecraft.

Hazza al-Mansouri took off with US astronaut Jessica Meir and Russian Oleg Skripochka unhindered at 13:57 GMT from the Russian Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan, for a journey of about six hours to the International Space Station (ISS) .

Coming to the Space Center in Dubai to watch the event, many compatriots held small flags in the national red, green, white and black colors, while children wore blue astronaut uniforms with the inscription in English: "future astronaut".

"I'm proud, I feel like I'm going into space, it's like all the Emirati are heading for space and our father (the founder of the country), Sheikh Zayed ( Al-Nahyan), accompanied us in space, "said AFP Badriya Al-Hammadi, a 38-year-old woman.

- "History" -

For Amer al-Ghafri, director of aerospace engineering at the Mohammed Bin Rashid Center, this feeling of joy and pride is just beginning. "This is just the beginning of the launch of space missions by the Emirates, there is a lot of ambition and work in progress," he told AFP.

A pioneer at the age of 35, Hazza al-Mansouri is the first Arab astronaut to spend eight days aboard the International Space Station where he will conduct several scientific experiments. Before him, two Arab astronauts were sent into space, a Saudi in 1985 and a Syrian in 1987, who did not walk on the ISS.

During his mission, the Emirati astronaut will carry the flag of his country, a copy of the Koran, a book of the ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashed Al-Maktoum, photographs of his family, a photo of Sheikh Zayed with the crew of the Apollo, as well as 30 seeds of Ghaf, the national tree, and Emirati food.

"The Emirates are embracing space," the Al-Ittihad newspaper said, while the local press is enthusiastic about what it calls "historic" completion.

The tallest tower in the world, Burj Khalifa, in central Dubai, lit up Wednesday night.

Emirates Post has also announced that it will issue souvenir stamps, including photos of Mr Mansouri and replacement astronaut Sultan al-Neyadi.

- "Talents and skills" -

At the Mohammed Bin Rashid center, Fatima Al-Ghurair came with her two children to attend the event. "We have bright people here in the Emirates and the world will now see that we have talented and competent people," she told AFP.

In December 2017, Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum launched the program to select, prepare, train and send four astronauts to the International Space Station over the next five years.

The Emirates have great ambitions for space and intend to become the first Arab country to carry out a Mars exploration program. In 2014, the country announced its intention to launch the "Hope" or "Al Amal" probe to the Red Planet by 2021.

On Twitter, Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum described the feat of Hazza al-Mansouri as "a message to Arab youth that we can move forward".

"I am filled with an indescribable sense of joy and amazement, and today I am bringing the dreams and ambitions of my country to a whole new dimension," tweeted the principal just before he took off.

© 2019 AFP