Hazzaa AlMansoori made history by becoming the first astronaut in space from the United Arab Emirates in 2019.
But only recently did the astronaut reveal that he brought an Israeli flag on his space mission which took place one year before the UAE and Israel signed the historic Abraham Accords peace agreement.
In a sign of warm friendship with the Jewish state, AlMansoori presented the Israeli flag from his space mission to the personnel at Israel’s pavilion at the Expo Dubai 2020.
“I am happy to be here and present this Israeli flag to the people here and the Israeli public. I took this flag with me two years ago on my first mission as an Emirati astronaut and this is my gift to all Israelis,” said AlMansoori – one of the youngest F-16 pilots of the UAE Air Force.
Josh Bandit, the organizer of the Israeli pavilion, was moved by AlMansoori warm gesture towards the Jewish state.
“It was a precious, touching gift to receive. To come dressed in his spacesuit and visit our pavilion – it shows a genuine caring for Israelis,” Bandit said.
AlMansoori’s connection with Israel extended beyond the symbolic Israeli flag that he brought on his mission. During Expedition 61 with the Russian Soyuz MS-15 space shuttle to the International Space Station (ISS), AlMansoori met Israeli-American astronaut Jessica Meir who was also on her first space mission. Meir’s Israeli father was born in Iraq and moved to the Jewish state with his family as a child. Meir herself was born and raised in the U.S.
Mansoori said he hoped to visit Israel in 2022 – particularly the Ilan Ramon Museum and Memorial in Mitzpe Ramon overlooking the spectacular Ramon Crater, which looks like a surreal lunar landscape. The museum is named after Ilan Ramon, Israel’s first astronaut who perished during the fatal U.S. Columbia mission in 2003. The space shuttle disintegrated as it reentered the atmosphere, killing all seven crew members. Ramon was one of the Israeli Air Force’s most legendary pilots and participated in the famous military raid on the Iraqi Osiraq nuclear reactor outside Baghdad in 1981.
But as bilateral relations between the UAE and Israel have developed rapidly since September 2020, cooperation between the two nations is set to extend beyond planet Earth. In October, the UAE and the Jewish state signed a historic space agreement focusing on landing two small spacecraft with the Emirati and Israeli flags next to each other on the moon in 2024. If successful, one of the two space landers is expected to eventually land on the far side of the moon, a feat that so far only China has achieved in the history of space missions.
In February 2022, Eytan Stibbe is expected to become Israel’s next astronaut to head to space when he joins a U.S. space mission from Cape Canaveral, Florida. Stibbe is a former Israeli Air Force pilot and was a colleague of Ramon.
Israel and the UAE are tiny players in space compared to space giants like the U.S., Russia and China. However, both Israel and the United Arab Emirates show what comparatively small nations can achieve on Earth and in space with large dreams, determination, courage, skills and peaceful collaboration.