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First astronaut from UAE launches to the International Space Station

Two other spaceflyers, from the U.S. and Russia, lifted off Wednesday for the orbiting lab.
NASA astronaut Jessica Meir, Russian cosmonaut Oleg Skripochka and United Arab Emirates astronaut Hazza Almansoori lifted off from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Sept. 25, 2019.Dmitri Lovetsky / AP

A Russian cosmonaut and two astronauts — one from NASA and the other from the United Arab Emirates — launched Wednesday to the International Space Station.

Jessica Meir of NASA, Oleg Skripochka of Roscosmos (Russia's space agency) and Hazza Ali Almansoori, one of only two astronauts in the nascent Emirati space program, lifted off in a Russian Soyuz rocket at 9:57 a.m. EDT from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

They are expected to arrive at the orbiting outpost at 3:45 p.m. EDT.

Skripochka is a veteran of two missions to the space station, but it will be the first for Meir and Almansoori.

Image: Oleg Skripochka, Jessica Meir, Hazza Al Mansouri
From left, United Arab Emirates astronaut Hazza Ali Almansoori, Russian cosmonaut Oleg Skripochka, and U.S. astronaut Jessica Meir pose before their final preflight practical examination at the Russian Space Training Center in Star City, outside Moscow on Aug. 30, 2019.Pavel Golovkin / AP

Almansoori was a pilot in the UAE armed forces before he was selected for astronaut training in 2018. The flight is part of Roscosmos' "spaceflight participant" program, which allows individuals who are not part of the Russian space agency to hitch a ride on short-duration flights to the ISS.

The United Arab Emirates launched its national space program in 2017 with the lofty goal of reaching Mars by 2021 and building a settlement on the Red Planet by 2117.

"We are all proud of being representatives of our homeland on the International Space Station and raising the UAE flag onboard," Almansoori and his fellow Emirati astronaut Sultan Al Neyadi said in a phone call Monday with Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, according to the Emirates News Agency.

NASA TV will broadcast the trio's arrival at the space station, beginning at 3 p.m. EDT.

Once aboard the space station, Meir, Skripochka and Almansoori will join NASA astronauts Christina Koch, Andrew Morgan and Nick Hague; Russian cosmonauts Alexey Ovchinin and Alexander Skvortsov; and Italian astronaut Luca Parmitano, of the European Space Agency.

Almansoori will remain at the space station for eight days. He is scheduled to return to Earth on Oct. 3 with Hague and Ovchinin, who have been living and working aboard the orbiting lab since March.

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