Rocket blasts off carrying first Arab to ISS

Baikonur (Kazakhstan) (AFP) –

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A Soyuz rocket blasted off on Wednesday from the Baikonur space centre in Kazakhstan carrying an Emirati who will make history as the first Arab on the International Space Station.

The Russian rocket carrying the three-member crew -- including Hazzaa al-Mansoori of the United Arab Emirates -- took off as scheduled at 1357 GMT.

Mansoori, 35, is accompanied by Russia's Oleg Skripochka and NASA astronaut Jessica Meir.

They are expected to dock at the station just under six hours after launch.

"Everything continues to go smoothly for this ride," a commentator said on NASA television seven minutes after the launch.

Russia's Roscosmos space agency said on Twitter that the spacecraft had successfully reached orbit.

Mansoori received support from around the world before what he described as his "dream" mission.

He was seen showing his fist in the air before the launch.

- 'Glory and awe' -

He will spend eight days on the ISS and will be the first Emirati and the first Arab on the orbiting laboratory, but not the first Muslim.

Writing on Twitter before the launch, Mansoori said he was "filled with this indescribable feeling of glory and awe".

"Today I carry the dreams and ambition of my country to a whole new dimension. May Allah grant me success in this mission," he said.

The day before the launch, he said he would record his prayer routine on the ISS and broadcast it to people on Earth.

"As a fighter pilot I already prayed in my aircraft," he said, explaining that he had experience of prayers at high speed.

Mansoori plans to conduct experiments and said he would take Emirati food with him to share with the crew.

Skripochka, first-time flyer Meir and Mansoori will join a six-member crew on the ISS and for a brief period of time the ISS will be home to nine astronauts.

At a pre-flight conference, Meir, 42, said the crew communicated by using "Runglish" - a mixture of Russian and English.

"We still need to work on our Arabic," she joked.

Russian Orthodox priests blessed the spacecraft ahead of the launch, in a traditional prayer service often held before Russian rocket launches.

Mansoori is set to return to Earth with NASA's Nick Hague and Russian cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin on October 3. Skripochka and Meir are set to remain on the ISS until the spring of 2020.

The International Space Station -- a rare example of cooperation between Russia and the West -- has been orbiting Earth at about 28,000 kilometres (17,000 miles) per hour since 1998.

Russia is resolved to keep its position as a leader of the space industry, particularly for manned space flights.

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