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.


Saudi ICT sector holds key to growth, forum told

Updated 20 March 2019
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Saudi ICT sector holds key to growth, forum told

  • 5G will be used in 30% of big cities in Saudi Arabia by 2020
  • 90% of KSA has 4G technology coverage, including remote centers and villages

RIYADH: Information and communications technology (ICT) is one of the main drivers of development in today’s world, a Riyadh forum on “Digital Transformation for an Ambitious Country” has been told.

In his opening speech to the annual Communications and Information Technology Indicators Forum, Abdul Aziz Al-Ruwais, governor of the Communications and Information Technology Commission, said the ICT sector stimulated productivity, enhanced competitiveness and encouraged innovation.

On Wednesday, the Saudi minister of communications and information technology, Abdullah bin Amer Al-Sawaha, joined regional and global leaders in the ICT sector, telecom executives and government officials at the forum.

Al-Ruwais said that ICT has been used to “develop strategies and regulatory policies that can guarantee the availability of infrastructure, basic apparatus and services in all regions of the Kingdom.”

“In order to facilitate the mission of researchers, experts and those interested in telecommunication services indicators, the Communications and Information Technology Commission established an electronic platform that allows the user to have access to indicators and statistics related to the sector. This platform enables the user to view the indicators in the form of tables and detailed graphs,” he said.

Al-Ruwais said the commission has achieved 90 percent coverage of 4G technologies in the Kingdom, including remote centers and villages.

He said the authority has issued temporary licenses for fifth-generation networks, equipping 153 sites with 5G in nine cities. So far, 680 trials were conducted for 5G.

He said that ICT services achieved high indicators during the 2017 Hajj season, with local and international calls totaling 439 million through 16,000 base stations.

Mufarreh Nahari, director of Market Studies at CITC, said: “It is expected that by 2020 the experimental uses of 5G will be fully completed and they will be ready to launch the official 5G sim by then. By the end of 2020 we expect that 5G will be used in 30 percent of the big cities in Saudi Arabia.”

The past three years have seen an increase in internet usage. In 2018, two-thirds of Internet users in the Kingdom used the internet for more than four hours a day, said Nahari.

Ammar Al-Ansari, department head of Country Digital Acceleration at Cisco, said: “The agreements signed by the crown prince during his overseas visits led to the introduction of a number of artificial intelligence (AI) techniques, including virtual schools and smart classrooms.” 

Seven schools in Saudi have a live stream for teachers to connect with their students. They may be 250 km to 300 km apart, but an active learning session takes place between students and educators.

Al-Ansari displayed a video from a teacher in Jeddah giving lessons to students in the northern region via a smart board. AI was used to monitor and analyze students’ attention spans. 

The analysis will help educators update traditional teaching methods.