Astronaut Sultan al-Neyadi of the United Arab Emirates launched to the International Space Station (ISS) earlier today aboard the SpaceX Crew-6 mission.

Nearly 80 spectators from the UAE gathered at the launch to watch al-Neyadi blast off on his six-month mission.

Al-Neyadi is the second Emirati to fly into space. When he completes the trip, he will become the Arab astronaut with the longest space mission.

While speaking during a live feed after reaching orbit, al-Neyadi said, “Assalamualaikum,” (peace be upon you) before thanking family, friends, the UAE Space program, NASA and SpaceX.

“Launch was incredible. Amazing,” he said.

Al-Neyadi will be joined in space by two Saudi astronauts later this spring, who are launching with the Ax-2 mission operated by Axiom Space.

Those astronauts will spend 12 days in orbit as part of Axiom Space’s second mission to the ISS.

“It’s going to be really exciting, really interesting” al-Neyadi said in response to having three Arabs in space at once.

Al-Neyadi will be aboard the ISS during the month of Ramadan, and he is bringing fruit dates to share with his crewmates. He did indicate that he would not be fasting, as it would affect his mission performance.

The Emirates have made missions to space a clear priority in recent years. They have a spacecraft orbiting Mars and a created Mini Moon Rover hitching a ride with a Japanese lander.

Dir.-Gen. of the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Center Salem AlMarri said the country hopes to learn a lot from the mission.

“We don’t want to just go to space and then not have much to do there or not have impact,” he said.

The country is planning several scientific studies on the effects of space on the human body.

“There will be a lot of human life sciences with more than 20 different experiments with UAE universities and international universities so this is something really big for us,” said AlMarri.

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