The United Arab Emirates announced on Monday the great ambitions it has for its newly established space agency. The wealthy Gulf federation aims to become a part of the existing space satellite programs, but the strategy also involves achieving an unprecedented feat for an Arab country: sending a mission on Mars by 2020.
The UAE has gradually earned a reputation for embarking on far-fetched projects, such as building the record-breaking Burj Khalifa skyscraper in the middle of the desert or designing Dubai’s man-made Palm islands. Trying to conquer space is only the next logical step for the oil-rich seven-state federation.
The UAE Space Agency was only created last year, and according to the agency’s chairman, Khalifa Mohammed Thani al-Rumaithi, its main purpose is to create diversified job for the country’s highly skilled young population. UAE officials believe space industry will become a cornerstone for the country’s economy.
“The United Arab Emirates is seeking to confirm its status as a spacefaring nation in which the industry plays a key role in sustainable economic development,” al-Rumaithi told his audience at an exquisite space-themed meeting held in Abu-Dhabi, the country’s capital.
The UAE government believes its economy cannot rely solely on oil exports, and is constantly on the lookout for new opportunities to expand. Encouraging tourism in places such as Dubai or Abu Dhabi by hosting very rewarding sporting events or building modern wonders of architecture is only part of the plan.
The high standard of living in the small Arab federation has allowed its young population to pursue highly specialized technical careers, and now the government in Abu Dhabi wants to provide them with the opportunity to put their skills to work. The UAE space agency has already put two satellites onto Earth’s orbit, and hopes to launch a third one soon.
However, the most ambitious part of the plan involves sending a Dubai-funded mission to Mars by 2020, making the UAE the first Arab nation to try to do so. An international Dubai-based team has already announced that a probe aptly named “Hope” will circle the Red Planet to gather more data about its atmosphere.
Abu Dhabi is one of the key investors on Virgin Galactic, Richard Branson’s space tourism project, having paid $280 million for a third of the company. But Virgin Galactic’s plans have been put on hold after an unsuccessful launch of its first rocket. Meanwhile, the UAE is unlikely to sit idle, and the latest announcement is a clear proof that the wealthy federation has its own space agenda.
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