With Hazza Al Mansouri returning to earth on October 3rd, the last few weeks have truly been a historical time for the UAE. The first Emirati astronaut has travelled to and from the International Space Station (ISS), marking the beginning of the UAE’s expansion into space.
The country, though only a few years shy of its fiftieth anniversary, has taken incredible strides in the fields of science and technology. Changing from a pre-developing to a post-industrial country is no small feat but one that the country has rapidly achieved.
And now, having taken themselves to the forefront of technology on earth, they are reaching for the stars. The Minster of State for Advanced Science, Sarah Bint Yousif Al Amiri, met with Emirati youth in London to talk about the UAE’s future in space, on the 4th of October.
The talk titled ‘Future on Mars,’ took place in the Science Museum on Exhibition Road, there could not be a more fitting place. Just two floors down from where the audience was seated was the Apollo 10, the spaceship that circled the moon and safely returned home in preparation for the 1969 Apollo 11 moon landing.
The room was full of some of the brightest and best Emirati students living and working in London. From astrophysicist to biologists, it seemed that there wasn’t a single field of study unrepresented. But then who isn’t fascinated by space and doesn’t want to learn more?
It didn’t really matter what our area of expertise was. We all found ourselves looking to the stars. The first topic of discussion was of course Hazza Al Mansouri.
The significance of Mansouri on the ISS is twofold, according to the minister. Firstly, his presence there and his experiments assist science in understanding the effects of microgravity and space on the human body.
Secondly, he has opened up a whole new world of possibilities for Emiratis. An Emirati astronaut encourages others to dream bigger. Al Amiri told the room that the effect it had on Emiratis when the launch happened was electric and that she saw the same reaction in her own young son. With an Emirati astronaut to look up to, he suddenly had a whole new world of possibilities open up to him.
She said, “If you were back home last week, everyone was transformed, if you were young and old, everyone is talking about space.”
“It breaks boundaries - I saw that in my child back home, his boundary of what he was able to do expanded in a moment.”
Of course, most discussion centred around the Emirates Mars Mission, something which has long been in the pipeworks. “There has been an investment in the space sector for over ten years now,” the minister told the room.
It hasn’t just been about getting to space, instead the programme aims to develop nearly all science sectors in the Emirates. Al Amiri said, “Space is a means to an end for the UAE. The space programme was used as a catalyst for growing education and technological development.”
It was also created to provide work for those entering scientific fields of study. “We wanted professional lives people could go into in the area of science focusing on more science.”
Like any space mission, this has involved work with numerous universities around the world. The UAE has partnered the University of California, Berkeley, as well as Arizona State and the University of Colorado.
The Emirates Mars Mission drone’s arrival on Mars is set to coincide with and celebrate the UAE’s fiftieth Anniversary in 2021. And like any development to come out of the UAE, it is unique in its leaps. While most countries attempt to send a drone to the moon first, or only send their first drone to Mars to take pictures, the UAE is not worried about taking any of the previous steps.
Instead this drone will go to collect unique data on the atmosphere and environment on Mars. Al Amiri said, “Get to Mars by the fiftieth anniversary of the UAE. What is a better way to celebrate it than with a mission where the data is unique, not replicated?”
The data will be released every two months should provide insight into climate change on Mar’s surface, with the aim to help us better understand the effects and process of climate change on earth.
This is in line with the vision of UAE President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al Nahyan. Al Amiri tells us that concerning the space programme, Sheikh Khalifa said, “Success for me is what happens here on earth, the knowledge that is left here on earth.
There are now less than 248 days until the spacecraft is launched. “We are now testing the hell out of it to make sure nothing breaks.” the minister told us.
Any Mars mission is risky, with 50% of drones sent failing to reach the planet and so extensive work has gone into the creation of the drone, which has been six years in the making. However, this is still record time for the creation of a spaceship.
Al Amiri told the room, “Ours took half the time. We were able to rethink the way that those projects were managed and create a more efficient management.”
In roughly 500 days the drone should be entering the atmosphere of Mars but for now the hard work continues.
Al Amiri said, “It’s been the toughest years of my life so far and will continue to be until the launch. But it has been a continuous learning experience - not a day goes by that I don’t learn something new and I am so honoured to be a part of it.”