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DUBAI: The United Arab Emirates announced Friday it will send an astronaut on a six-month mission to space, as it seeks to become a major player in the industry.

The wealthy Gulf country signed “a new agreement to send the first Arab astronaut on a long 180-day mission to the International Space Station”, tweeted UAE’s vice president, Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum.

“Proud of the UAE’s youth,” he added.

According to the UAE’s The National newspaper, the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC) and Axiom Space signed a deal on Wednesday at the Emirati embassy in Washington.

The astronaut will be part of the SpaceX Crew-6 mission, scheduled for launch in 2023, it added.

The UAE — made up of seven emirates including Abu Dhabi and Dubai — is a newcomer to the world of space exploration but quickly making its mark.

In September 2019, the oil-rich country sent a first Emirati into space as part of a three-member crew that blasted off on a Soyuz rocket from Kazakhstan for an eight-day mission.

Then in July, it launched an unmanned spacecraft from Japan’s Tanegashima Space Center bearing the “Hope” probe destined for Mars, in the Arab world’s first interplanetary mission.

The Emirates also has its sights on the moon and has said it plans to launch an unmanned rover to the moon by 2024.

Sheikh Mohammed said in September 2020 the lunar mission was part of the country’s space strategy to build new knowledge-based and scientific capabilities. It will be an integral part of efforts to build the first settlement on Mars in 2117 — one of the UAE’s most ambitious plans, said the Dubai Media Office at the time.

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