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
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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.


‘Touch the sun’: NASA spacecraft hurtles toward our star

Updated 13 August 2018
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‘Touch the sun’: NASA spacecraft hurtles toward our star

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida: Embarking on a mission that scientists have been dreaming of since the Sputnik era, a NASA spacecraft hurtled Sunday toward the sun on a quest to unlock some of its mysteries by getting closer than any object sent before.
If all goes well, the Parker Solar Probe will fly straight through the wispy edges of the sun’s corona, or outer atmosphere, in November. In the years ahead, it will gradually get within 3.8 million miles (6 million kilometers) of the surface, its instruments protected from the extreme heat and radiation by a revolutionary new carbon heat shield and other high-tech wizardry.
Altogether, the Parker probe will make 24 close approaches to our star during the seven-year, $1.5 billion journey.
“Wow, here we go. We’re in for some learning over the next several years,” said Eugene Parker, the 91-year-old astrophysicist for whom the spacecraft is named.
It was Parker who accurately theorized 60 years ago the existence of solar wind — the supersonic stream of charged particles blasting off the sun and coursing through space, sometimes wreaking havoc on electrical systems on Earth.
This is the first time NASA has named a spacecraft after a living person.

As Parker and thousands of others watched, a Delta IV Heavy rocket carried the probe aloft, thundering into the clear, star-studded sky on three pillars of fire that lit up the middle-of-the-night darkness.
NASA needed the mighty 23-story rocket, plus a third stage, to get the Parker probe — the size of a small car and well under a ton — racing toward the sun, 93 million miles (150 million kilometers) from Earth.
A Saturday morning launch attempt was foiled by last-minute technical trouble. But Sunday gave way to complete success.
It was the first rocket launch ever witnessed by Parker, a retired University of Chicago professor. He said it was like looking at photos of the Taj Mahal for years and then beholding the real thing in India.
“I really have to turn from biting my nails in getting it launched, to thinking about all the interesting things which I don’t know yet and which will be made clear, I assume, over the next five or six or seven years,” Parker said on NASA TV.
Among the mysteries scientists hope to solve: Why is the corona hundreds of times hotter than the surface, which is 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit (5,500 degrees Celsius)? And why is the sun’s atmosphere continually expanding and accelerating, as Parker theorized in 1958?
“The only way we can do that is to finally go up and touch the sun,” said project scientist Nicola Fox of Johns Hopkins University. “We’ve looked at it. We’ve studied it from missions that are close in, even as close as the planet Mercury. But we have to go there.”
A better understanding of the sun’s life-giving and sometimes violent nature could also enable earthlings to better protect satellites and astronauts in orbit, along with the power grids so vital to today’s technology-dependent society, said Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA’s science mission chief.
Parker, the probe, will start shattering records this fall. On its very first brush with the sun, it will come within 15.5 million miles (25 million kilometers), easily beating the current record of 27 million miles (43 million kilometers) set by NASA’s Helios 2 spacecraft in 1976.
By the time Parker gets to its 22nd, 23rd and 24th orbits of the sun in 2024 and 2025, it will be even deeper into the corona and traveling at a record 430,000 mph (690,000 kilometers per hour). Nothing from planet Earth has ever gone that fast.
Even Fox has difficulty comprehending the mission’s derring-do.
“To me, it’s still mind-blowing,” she said. “Even I still go, ‘Really? We’re doing that?’“
The 8-foot (2.4-meter) heat shield will serve as an umbrella that will shade the spacecraft’s scientific instruments, with on-board sensors adjusting the protective cover as necessary so that nothing gets fried.
A mission to get up close and personal with our star has been on NASA’s books since 1958. The trick was making the spacecraft compact and light enough to travel at incredible speeds and durable enough to withstand the punishing environment.
“We’ve had to wait so long for our technology to catch up with our dreams,” Fox said.