3,000 Emiratis want to reach for the stars

There have been 3,000 people apply to become the first Emirati in space, 25% of those were women (Shutterstock)
Updated 12 February 2018

3,000 Emiratis want to reach for the stars

DUBAI: More than 3,000 Emiratis have applied for the four available training courses to become the UAE’s first astronauts.

Yusuf Al-Shaibani, director general of the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Center, revealed the latest numbers in an update on the UAE’s space program, which was set in train in 2014 with a view to sending a spaceship to Mars by 2021 to coincide with the country’s 50th anniversary.

Al-Shaibani said such a level of applications — from a country with a comparatively small population — compared very favorably with the numbers applying to the American NASA program, which attracted 18,000 applicants.

A quarter of the applicants were women, the youngest was 17 and the oldest was 67. “We wish him luck,” Al-Shaibani said. Just over a fifth of the applicants were ether commercial or military pilots, and many had university qualifications in science, technology, engineering or mathematics, the so-called “Stem” disciplines.

“This is not space tourism, but a real initiative to encourage Emiratis to study science and technology,” Al-Shaibani said.

The applicants will go through a stringent period of assessment and evaluation before the final four are selected to go into full-time training for up to four years, after which they will be qualified to travel to an international space station orbiting Earth.

The search for the first Emirati astronaut is part of the country’s ambitious space program, which also aims to send a mission to Mars, as well as a longer term plan to put human beings on the Red Planet in just under 100 years’ time in domed “colonies,” Al-Shaibani explained.

Mariam Al-Shamsi, director of space science at the Space Center, said the facilities it already had in Dubai enabled it to study what it was like to live on Mars, and to undertake research on the prospects for food, water and energy on the planet.

“The projects are on line and on time. We have finished the engineering design for the Mars satellite, and now we are in the flight development stage,” she said.

The Mars satellite will be a scientific first, because it will enable scientists to take readings and samples of the Martian atmosphere at regular intervals on each day of the year.

The idea is to “build, not buy” the technology for the space initiative, but it depended on international collaboration with other governments and specialist areas of knowledge, Al-Shaibani said.

The UAE partnered with South Korea in the early stages of the program that sent two satellites into space from Dubai. A third, KhalifaSat, is planned to go into orbit this year.


“Punch in the gut” as scientists find micro plastic in Arctic ice

Chief Scientist for the Northwest Passage Project Dr. Brice Loose drills an ice core in the Arctic as part of an 18-day icebreaker expedition that took place in July and August 2019 in the Northwest Passage, in a still image taken from a handout video obtained by REUTERS on August 14, 2019. (REUTERS)
Updated 15 August 2019

“Punch in the gut” as scientists find micro plastic in Arctic ice

  • The researchers said the ice they sampled appeared to be at least a year old and had probably drifted into Lancaster Sound from more central regions of the Arctic

LONDON: Tiny pieces of plastic have been found in ice cores drilled in the Arctic by a US-led team of scientists, underscoring the threat the growing form of pollution now poses to marine life in even the remotest waters on the planet.
The researchers used a helicopter to land on ice floes and retrieve the samples during an 18-day icebreaker expedition through the Northwest Passage, the hazardous route linking the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans.
“We had spent weeks looking out at what looks so much like pristine white sea ice floating out on the ocean,” said Jacob Strock, a graduate student researcher at the University of Rhode Island, who conducted an initial onboard analysis of the cores.
“When we look at it up close and we see that it’s all very, very visibly contaminated when you look at it with the right tools — it felt a little bit like a punch in the gut,” Strock told Reuters by telephone.
Strock and his colleagues found the material trapped in ice taken from Lancaster Sound, an isolated stretch of water in the Canadian Arctic, which they had assumed might be relatively sheltered from drifting plastic pollution
The team drew 18 ice cores of up to two meters in length from four locations, and saw visible plastic beads and filaments of various shapes and sizes. The scientists said the findings reinforce the observation that micro plastic pollution appears to concentrate in ice relative to seawater.
“The plastic just jumped out in both its abundance and its scale,” said Brice Loose, an oceanographer at the University of Rhode Island and chief scientist of the expedition, known as the Northwest Passage Project.
The scientists’ dismay is reminiscent of the consternation felt by explorers who found plastic waste in the Pacific Ocean’s Marianas Trench, the deepest place on Earth, during submarine dives earlier this year.
The Northwest Passage Project is primarily focused on investigating the impact of manmade climate change on the Arctic, whose role as the planet’s cooling system is being compromised by the rapid vanishing of summer sea ice.
But the plastic fragments — known as micro plastic — also served to highlight how the waste problem has reached epidemic proportions. The United Nations estimates that 100 million tons of plastic have been dumped in the oceans to date.
The researchers said the ice they sampled appeared to be at least a year old and had probably drifted into Lancaster Sound from more central regions of the Arctic.
The team plans to subject the plastic they retrieved to further analysis to support a broader research effort to understand the damage plastic is doing to fish, seabirds and large ocean mammals such as whales.
Funded by the National Science Foundation and the Heising-Simons Foundation in the United States, the expedition in the Swedish icebreaker The Oden ran from July 18 to Aug. 4 and covered some 2,000 nautical miles.