WanderlustAl Wathba: The Desert That Inspired an Astronaut

The rugged beauty and clear skies of the Abu Dhabi desert that inspired a National Hero

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A new National Hero, Major Hazza Al Mansouri is the first Emirati to go into space. On 25th September 2019 he took off aboard the Soyuz MS-15 spacecraft for an eight-day stay on the International Space Station. Born in the Abu Dhabi region of Al Wathba, Major Al Mansouri’s love of space was inspired by the raw beauty and untouched landscapes of this youth. As a child, Major Al Mansouri loved gazing up at the stars and meteors that lit up the dark nights in the Liwa desert. He dreamed of being a pilot and loved to read about airplanes and space trips.

Over the eight days he travelled almost five million miles around the planet looking down at the endlessly shifting weather patterns, vast expanses of ocean and the glittering lights of towns and cities across the planet. His is a story that will inspire a new generation of Emirati youth to take to the skies and further the nation’s dreams of space. All of this started for Major Al Mansouri in the desertscapes of Al Wathba, an area Jumeirah is all too familiar with.

Otherworldly desert landscapes

Just 40 minutes from Abu Dhabi, Al Wathba’s untouched dunes undulate sinuously alongside the wetlands that thousands of fluttering flamingos call their home. Sculpted by the winds of countless centuries, fossilised dunes around Al Wathba create gravity-defying lunar-esque shapes. The angular, abstract formations punctuate the landscape, rendering it a natural outdoor sculpture park that looks truly out of this world. It is little wonder Abu Dhabi’s majestic desert has become a magnet for Hollywood looking to recreate interstellar panoramas, immortalised in films such as Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

The Desert That Inspired Major Al Mansouri - Al Wathba Abu Dhabi


Looking up at the skies

As the philosopher Plato once said, “Astronomy compels the soul to look upward, and leads us from this world to another” and this is the path Major Al Mansouri took. Standing in the desert on the edge of Al Wathba, where the light pollution from the city has all but disappeared, is the Al Sadeem Observatory where keen astronomers (both professional and amateur) can gaze deep into the night skies towards neighbouring planets and distant stars.

The Desert That Inspired Major Al Mansouri - Milky Way Camel Al Wathba Abu Dhabi


Staying in the desert

Nestled deep within the dunes of Al Wathba, Jumeirah Al Wathba Desert Resort and Spa is a serene Arabian escape framed by mesmerising natural beauty. Harmonising timeless Bedouin living with unparalleled luxury, the striking resort is the perfect location from which to explore the surrounding desert. Hop on a fatbike and ride with a guide around Al Wathba’s ethereal dunes, glimpsing the lizards and sand foxes that live among them. Or, take to the sweeping sands on horseback with an exhilarating gallop across the wild terrain, or for something more sedate, a camel trek – the traditional way to navigate the Arabian desert.

The Desert That Inspired Major Al Mansouri - Camel Riding Al Wathba Abu Dhabi


At the end of your day exploring the desert, enjoy a drink on the lantern-lit terrace while gazing across the dunes, watching the skies light up in a carpet of a billion stars that once inspired a young, would-be astronaut.