UAE to have first Emirati astronauts this year


UAE to have first Emirati astronauts this year
Dr. Mohammed Nasser Al Ahbabi, director general of the UAE Space Agency, during the launch of new iShuttle Portal held at UAE Space Agency HQ. - KT photo By Ryan Lim

Abu Dhabi - The UAE Space Agency is working vigorously to improve space awareness

By Jasmine Al Kuttab

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Published: Tue 9 Jan 2018, 9:29 PM

Last updated: Wed 10 Jan 2018, 6:41 PM

The UAE will have its first Emirati astronaut by the end of the year. The astronaut will be titled, recruited and trained to be sent into space in 2021, announced officials on Tuesday.
Dr Mohammed Al Ahbabi, director-general of the UAE Space Agency, spoke to Khaleej Times on the sidelines of the iShuttle Portal conference, at the UAE Space Agency Headquarters in Abu Dhabi.
Dr Al Ahbabi said that the UAE will continue the momentum of its space initiatives in 2017 through this year, especially when the nation will announce its very first astronaut, who will be sent to space in three years.
So far, more than 2,000 people aged 18 and above have applied for the programme, but by the end of the year, only four lucky winners will be announced.
"This project will select, train and sustain the first UAE national astronaut. But it is not just one astronaut, and this will not be done once - this will be a continuing programme."
Dr Al Ahbabi said the UAE Space Agency aims at opening doors of opportunities and is thus working vigorously to improve the level of space awareness.
"The public will have more knowledge about space through this programme and we also encourage young people to think big."

Three satellite missions to launch this year
> Yahsat Satellite: Launch to take place on January 25. The state-of-the-art communication satellite will serve South America
> Khalifa Sat: To be launched in the middle of 2018. This will be the very first space craft that was designed and manufactured in the UAE.
> My Sat: Launch will be held between May and June
He said that in two months, there will be an evaluation process of the applicants. The applicants range from doctors to pilots and engineers, he said, adding that the top four will be selected before the end of the year. "The more people submitting their applications, the more excitement will be generated. When you look at the spectrum of the applicants, it makes sense. We have applicants from pilots, engineers, doctors and elderly people, including those above 60 years old."
"Yes, it is a load on us, but I think the idea is to maximise effort and awareness. This is a message and an indication about the level of knowledge and interest in science in the UAE."
"The training will take two to three years and after that the first astronaut will be ready to be sent to the international space station in 2021," added Dr Al Ahbabi. He pointed out that the four winners will each receive the title, 'UAE Astronaut.'
"It is a full time job, they will take on various initiatives including science on earth, science in space and they will be our ambassadors in schools, where they will inspire young people.
"What's unique about this programme is not just to send a visitor to space - it is a sustainable programme that will open doors for missions, including those to the moon and Mars. This is the first step in the UAE's 100-year Mars programme."
He said the programme is equal to a university degree and is run on the best practices, in the most effective ways.
"It is also very transparent, we don't hide anything, every thing is out there.
"We are excited to have our first astronaut, and we are proud of what we are doing. We will continue to do our best to improve and inspire future generations," added Dr Al Ahbabi.

iShuttle portal for space enthusiasts

Jasmine Al Kuttab
Abu Dhabi: The UAE Space Agency has launched a new online portal, iShuttle, designed to engage with and drive interest in space among students, teachers and the wider public.
iShuttle will thus allow residents of all walks of life to contribute to the nation's ambitious National Space Programme by submitting their ideas and solutions to the UAE Space Agency, solving complex problems and designing unique experiments.
The challenges will vary in length and complexity, and while team-work and group submissions are encouraged, individual proposals will be accepted as well.
Expert panels composed of university faculty and representatives from the UAE Space Agency will be formed for each challenge and will select the winning submissions.
On the sidelines of the announcement, Dr Mohammed Al Ahbabi, director-general of the UAE Space Agency, told Khaleej Times the platform will not only inspire young innovators to enter the space sector, but also foster creativity, collaboration and critical thinking.
"This initiative will attract bright ideas and solutions on how to solve challenges in space."
"These bright ideas will be evaluated by the UAE Space Agency, before being implemented and launched."
The first challenge, which involves a concept experiment for a balloon mission, already went live on Tuesday.
"This initiative opens doors to find talented people. There are so many, but we just don't know where they are."
Dr Al Ahbabi said he hopes to see many more students like Alia Al Mansouri, the 15-year-old Emirati winner of the 'Genes in Space UAE' competition, whose science experiment launched into space in August last year.
"We are trying to open the door for so many Alias and I'm sure there are so many bright students, but they are hiding. We are just trying to bring them out."
Dr Ahmad Belhoul Al Falasi, Minister of State for Higher Education and Chairman of the UAE Space Agency, said that inspiring young generations is the idea behind the new platform.
"Encouraging students to enter STEM fields is a key goal of the UAE Space Agency and a priority of the UAE Vision 2021, to ensure that the UAE develops the human capital necessary to create a world-leading knowledge economy."

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