In light of the recent accomplishments by the European Space Agency to land a probe on a comet for the first time today, I thought it would be interesting to explore the activities of space programs in the Middle East. It turns out that the only country making any serious moves to join space expeditions is the United Arab Emirates. This past July the UAE announced its plan to land an unmanned spacecraft on Mars by the year 2021. This is an impressive goal and was almost inevitable, seeing as the country has already invested over $5.4 billion in space related technology. For the most part their investments have gone to launching satellites that observe geographical landscapes and weather patterns so this plan to send a spacecraft to Mars is a huge leap. It has come at an even greater surprise to the space community that the UAE plans on constructing its own spacecraft facility and launching capabilities, as apposed to using already external sources. The U.S. has even been known to carry out spacecraft launches, manned and unmanned, in Russia with Russian spaceships so the fact that the UAE wants to do this completely alone is commendable. The complexity behind the science of constructing rockets and satellites is so difficult and rarely understood across the globe that the UAE hired South Korean scientists back in 2009 to help design and teach them how to go about constructing a spacecraft. They have since successfully launched a number of satellites on their own into space.
Another noteworthy investment the UAE has made is in Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic. The country holds 32% stake in the company, which means the capital city of Abu Dhabi, will have exclusive rights to some of the first space tourism flight locations. If you aren’t familiar with Virgin Galactic and its mission statement, it is a company aimed at providing suborbital spaceflights to space tourists, suborbital launches for space science missions, and orbital launches of small satellites.
The UAE’s decision to invest in space exploration is a statement to not only the rest of the Middle East, but to the entire world that they are a prestigious power, worthy of international respect. Writer Jill Stuart of The Conversation.com, states that the act of carrying out a mission to Mars shows financial strength, technological capabilities, and also ideologically the capability to be at the forefront of an area of research that taps into humanity’s biggest goals. If everything goes as planned, the spacecraft would land on Mars very close to the 50 year anniversary of the countries formation which would be a pretty awesome present if you ask me. What do you think about the UAE’s aspirations? Do you think they are realistically achievable? You should leave a comment to let me know what you think!