Apart from a couple of monkeys from Iran, the Middle East has yet to send a serious mission to space. But Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the UAE vice president and ruler of Dubai, recently confirmed that this is about to change with news that the United Arab Emirates is planning to send a spaceship to Mars by 2021.
“Our region is a cradle of great civilizations,” Sheikh Al Maktoum said in a recent tweet. “Given the right tools Arabs, once again, can deliver new scientific contributions to humanity.”
In order to be able to send a mission to Mars however, it’s first necessary to establish a space agency that can coordinate the mammoth effort that sending an uncrewed mission to Mars entails.
Al Maktoum said in a statement that the agency will be responsible for “organizing the mission, developing the UAE’s aerospace sector, and maximizing the contribution of space industries to the national economy,” writes The Verge.
The UAE has already invested a substantial sum to develop its space technology. $5.4 billion has been spent already – mostly on satellites.
“The government’s investment company owns satellite broadcasting system Yahsat, which recently announced plans to launch its third satellite in 2016,” The Verge reports. “The Emirates Institution for Advanced Science and Technology (EIAST), established by the government of Dubai in 2006, launched its own DubaiSat-1 in 2009, with DubaiSat-2 following in 2013.”
“The new probe to Mars represents our Arab and Muslim world entering to the era of space exploration,” says Al Maktoum.
Although the UAE has been pushing to develop a pan-Arab space agency since 2008, several nations in the Middle East / North Africa region have been embroiled in the kind of conflict that creates a barrier to science. And no doubt some critics will question the UAE’s expenditures on such a “frivolous” mission. But we think that this will be a huge boon to the region.
In addition to developing the necessary technology, this kind of project could usher in a new generation of young scientists and explorers, which will hopefully be publicized from the region (rather than abroad.)
With its oil and gas reserves, and a progressive government that values science and technology development, the UAE is well-poised to pull this off.