The project complements a long list of ambitious targets articulated by the U.A.E leaders that all have in common the aim to diversify the Arab state’s economy away from oil-related revenues.
As part of the plan, the U.A.E. will set up a new agency to oversee its nascent space industry and to marshal the Mars mission. There are currently only a handful of countries with space programs to explore Mars, the second-smallest planet in the solar system, some of which have successfully landed a probe on the Red Planet. The mission entails a journey of at least 60 million kilometres.
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“The U.A.E. Mars probe represents the Islamic world’s entry into the era of space exploration,” said U.A.E. president Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan. “We will prove that we are capable of delivering new scientific contributions to humanity,” he said.
The U.A.E.’s space program took off in earnest in 2009 when Abu Dhabi-backed investment company Aabar acquired a stake in Virgin Galactic, the world’s first commercial space company partly owned by Richard Branson’s Virgin Group.
The country’s space technology program is described in Wednesday’s announcement as a “turning point” in the U.A.E.’s development and expected to become a main pillar of its economy.
The capital Abu Dhabi and Dubai in particular, the two largest cities in the U.A.E., have been developing a tourism and services industry that is often defined by large-scale and hyper-ambitious projects including the world’s tallest tower and manmade islands off the coast. Most recently, Dubai unveiled plans to build a gigantic, temperature-controlled mall. It also wants to become the world’s center of the Islamic economy.
“We chose the epic challenge of reaching Mars because epic challenges inspire us and motivate us,” said Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, the U.A.E. vice-president and Dubai ruler. “The moment we stop taking on such challenges is the moment we stop moving forward,” he said.
The U.A.E. has already invested more than $5 billion into space technology including a satellite broadcaster and an earth observation system. Globally, the space industry is estimated to be worth around $300 billion and growing 8% per year, according to the statement.
Earlier this year, Aabar announced a competition to send an Emirati aboard a Virgin Galactic spaceship once commercial flights start. There’s also been talk of establishing a spaceport in Abu Dhabi in recent years.
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They haven’t spent much on education over the years in contrasts with malls and artificial islands. So I wonder who is going to do the engineering and science for this.