A giant leap for UAE

THE UAE’s plan to send an unmanned space probe to Mars is a landmark moment in the country’s history — a symbol of the UAE’s advancement in technical capability and global standing, as well as a harbinger for the resurgence of science in the Arab world. The probe is set to take off in 2021 to travel 60 million kilometres in nine months, before reaching the Red Planet and marking the UAE’s place at the forefront of humanity.

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Published: Fri 18 Jul 2014, 11:53 PM

Last updated: Fri 3 Apr 2015, 9:34 PM

Announced on Wednesday, the plan is putting the UAE in an elite group of explorers pushing research into the earth’s nearest planetary neighbour: only the US, the EU, Japan, China, India, Canada and Russia currently have space programmes targeting Mars.

The significance of the announcement is multi-pronged. Firstly, there is the pure scientific interest in furthering humanity’s exploration of space, and Mars in particular. It is a rocky planet between 200 and 250 million kilometres from the sun with a thin atmosphere composed primarily of carbon dioxide — and, most importantly, still largely unexplored. Missions are examining its surface and its rocky underground for minerals and even the possibility of life: scientists have held out hope for discovering bacteria and other micro-organisms on the planet that may help explain the origins of life; furthermore, the setting up of human colonies on Mars is under active investigation.

Secondly, the space industry itself is substantial — worth about $300 billion globally — and projected to see major growth in the coming years. Telecommunications, in particular, is underpinned by developments in satellites and related technologies. By focusing technical and creative energies on the Mars probe project, the UAE is enabling its space industry to rise to become among the world’s best.

Thirdly, the benefits are poised to extend beyond the sector. Space research is a boon to a country’s technical and engineering environment and capabilities. Space programmes elsewhere have sparked key inventions benefiting wide-ranging aspects of life — including spurring the development of solar panels, which are particularly effective in space. The potential for knowledge transfers is immense.

Finally, the Mars programme signals a major achievement for the global standing of the UAE and the Arab world — a region that was once the pinnacle of science and technology anywhere. As His Highness Shaikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, noted in this week’s announcement: “Our region is a region of civilisation. Our destiny is, once again, to explore, to create, to build and to civilise.”

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