The Middle East joins the race to space with a new program which will launch a research probe to MARS in the next seven years. His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum (Vice President and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Ruler of Dubai) announced establishment of a UAE Space Agency.
With a starting budget exceeding $5 billion USD, the newly hatched government agency aims to send the first Arab spaceship to Mars by 2021. How’s that jibe with the fatwa against Mars space travel? The UAE probe will be unmanned, sidestepping the “suicide mission” tag of the Netherlands-based Mars One program.
The agency intends to kick-start growth in Arab technology and aerospace industries, with expected positive knock-on to the regional economy. It also positions the UAE as one of only nine countries with a Mars space program.
A press release stated,” The more than 60 million kelometer (sic) journey to Mars will mark UAE out as one of few countries with space programs to explore the Red Planet. Our region is a cradle of great civilizations. Given the right tools, Arabs, once again, can deliver new scientific contributions to humanity.”
The announcement was made via the sheikh’s Facebook page (link here) and has so far attracted nearly 1000 comments ranging from enthusiastic support to harsh criticism.
“So these Arabs can spend so much money on such things(they’ve been given so much wealth) and can’t help our brothers and sisters in Palestine, Syria, Burma etc?”, opined one of the sheikh’s followers. Many of the naysayers point to the increasing humanitarian crises in Syria, Iraq and Palestine as better targets for UAE investment.
Others stick to classic Facebook wise-guy-isms such as the commenter who said, “You’re sending Arabs to space, yet you can’t spell kilometers'”.
The forward-thinking sheikh said, “We chose the epic challenge of reaching Mars because epic challenges inspire us and motivate us. The moment we stop taking on such challenges is the moment we stop moving forward.”
In 2011, he established the first ever Global Energy Forum in Dubai, and he championed development of the UAE’s renewable energy sector. But those efforts hardly mitigate the environmental irresponsibility of Emirates’ out-sized (earthbound) development schemes that place value on world-record-breaking luxury over world-preserving rationalism.
Will space exploration be a new arena for the Gulf to demonstrate environmental and technological leadership? Or is it just another paragraph in a future World Records annual?
Image of Mars from Shutterstock