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Finding peace in space and happiness on earth

As Emirati astronaut gears up for his historic journey, let's revive the spirit of cooperation among nations.

By Allan Jacob (Fine Print)

Published: Wed 4 Sep 2019, 9:58 PM

Last updated: Thu 5 Sep 2019, 12:01 AM

Early missions into space were driven by competition between the United States and the erstwhile USSR. Today, it's more about cooperation. Flights to the International Space Station (ISS) now carry astronauts from all over the world. Space has indeed shrunk our planet, and Emirati astronaut Hazza Al Mansouri is a product of cooperation between nations to explore new worlds. These joint explorations make our existence on the earth meaningful. We can afford to dream and find a higher purpose and calling.
When I think of space, I imagine Yuri Gagarin and his pioneering flight of 108 minutes on April 12, 1961, on the erstwhile Soviet Union's Vostok spacecraft. That flight came at the height of the Cold War between the two superpowers, the US and the former USSR. The Soviets got there first and Gagarin became a cultural icon in his country.
The USSR beat the Americans again when Valentina Tereshkova became the first woman in space aboard the Vostok 8 on November 16, 1963. Alexei Leonov then became the first man to do a spacewalk in 1965.
To Soviet dismay however the Americans made it even with the inspiring lunar landing by Neil Armstrong on July 20, 1969. It was simply out of this world and I believe that the event changed the course of spatial history, even world history. Space was overshadowed by the Moon and a cult was born.
Gagarin and his Soviet compatriots, I feel, never got their due share of the limelight because the Americans raised the competition to another level - they walked on the Moon and found the 'Sea of Tranquility.' And those Moon-walkers became global cultural icons, because feeling the lunar surface beneath your feet is better than the mere act of spinning in circles around the blue planet.
The Soviets never made it to the Moon for some inexplicable reason. They were perhaps complacent and thought the Americans wouldn't think beyond the earth's orbit. Besides, the USSR's lunar programme, unlike the US project, was shrouded in mystery. There were reports that the N1 rocket headed for the Moon failed to launch in 1969 and ended in tragedy. The nationalistic Soviet space programme slowed thereafter but came to life again as the Cold War grew fiercer in 80s.
That's history now and the world is a safer place - at least out there in space. And in the new spirit of cooperation, Hazza Al Mansouri will be part of an international mission with Nasa astronaut Jessica Meir and Russian commander Oleg Skripochka.
They will lift off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on board the Soyuz MS-15 spacecraft on September 25.
I have followed the UAE space programme on occasion and I like the scale of ambition that has been invested in it - a colony on Mars is the goal in a hundred years, with the UAE's unmanned Hope Mars Mission set for launch in 2021.
Al Mansouri's journey from Kazakhstan is the start of this country's odyssey of galactic proportions. A Mars Scientific City is already in the works. The project will cost Dh500 million and is expected to be completed in three years. This futuristic marvel will cover 1.9 million square feet of space. The ambitious plan is to help prepare humans for Mars by 2117. Abu Dhabi, meanwhile, is preparing to become a space tourism hub for Virgin Galactic. The UAE already has ten satellites in orbi, and the global satellite and launch market could be worth $468 billion in the next decade, according to Frost & Sullivan.
The commercial space in this segment is only beginning to be exploited. Satellites have become critical for weather forecasting, GPS, and telecommunications. Our very lives depend on them and more cooperation in this space is envisaged. Concerns, remain about militarising space. Global powers like the US, China, Russia, and India now use satellites for strategic purposes. It may not be the Stars Wars of the Cold War era when both the US and former USSR considered deploying or deployed missiles in space, but is a race of another kind when countries could battle to knock out each other's satellites in the event of a conflict to disrupt communications. India recently shot its own satellite to show its prowess in this sphere which raised fears about debris floating around that could cause damage to other spatial vehicles. The US has revived its space command which raises the spectre of Star Wars II with missiles on board space stations and vehicles.
But Hazza and the other astronauts will have no such worries on board the ISS, a joint venture by 15 nations, including the US and Russia. The Emirati astronaut will be among friends, and at home.
Meanwhile, India is exploring the Moon with its first rover expected to patrol the lunar surface later this week. More young men and women are making space their oyster, their comfort zone. They are travelling farther and finding peace with other travellers - living, working and doing good for our planet. If only they could find a way to clear 500,000 pieces of junk like dead satellites, rocket parts and other debris floating around orbits, we on earth will be in a happier place.

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