UAE sets precedent for Arabs in space
On Sept. 12, 1962, President John F. Kennedy proudly declared to the American people: “We choose to go to the moon.” As those historic words boomed from the podium, he invoked the spirit of American ingenuity, determination and resolve.
Through dedicated efforts of continued innovation and development, the UAE has invoked this same spirit by announcing its mission to send highly qualified Emirati candidates to the International Space Station (ISS) as part of a historic and inspiring event for the Arab region.
Out of 4,000 competitive female and male applicants for this expedition, only two were chosen to set new precedents for Arab achievements in space. Hazza Ali Abdan Al-Mansouri, aged 34 and holding a Ph.D. in informational technology, and Sultan Saif Hamad Al-Neyadi, aged 37 and a military pilot, will travel to the ISS next April for a 10-day mission in cooperation with the Russian space agency.
It is important to quote Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum — vice president and prime minister of the UAE, and ruler of Dubai — who said: “Hazza and Sultan represent a new stage for the UAE youth and raise the aspirations of new generations after them.”
His statement is of particular significance as it implies that these Emirati youths are not only an inspiration for aspiring young scientists and engineers in the UAE, but throughout the Arab world, especially Saudi Arabia.
Ambitious young Saudis can look to another space explorer for inspiration, who also happens to be a local hero. Although this UAE mission will represent the first time that Arabs will be part of a mission to the ISS, it is not the first for Arabs in space.
In 1985, Saudi Prince Sultan bin Salman — currently the chairman of the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage (SCTH) — was the first Arab to go beyond Earthly borders, in coordination with the US, to deploy a satellite for the Arab Satellite Communications Organization (Arabsat). This mission helped lead the way for Arabs in space.
No one understands the transformative power of innovation, entrepreneurship and private enterprise like Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
It is no secret that space exploration requires a massive allocation of resources, as well as a large body of collaborative and committed engineers, in order to make it possible. Therefore, one must make a very good case for sending men and women into the unknowns of space.
American economists and lawmakers have long debated the pros and cons of privatizing NASA’s efforts, with some claiming that the private sector simply cannot muster the financial firepower to fund man’s thirst for exploring the cosmos.
These claims were summarily debunked earlier this year as tech billionaire Elon Musk’s SpaceX, a private company, successfully launched its Falcon Heavy, the world’s most powerful operational rocket.
No one understands the transformative power of innovation, entrepreneurship and private enterprise like Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Shortly after the launch of Falcon Heavy, he visited the Mojave Air and Space Port in California to meet with Richard Branson, chairman of Virgin Atlantic and a well-known proponent of space exploration and tourism.
During the visit, the crown prince was briefed on Branson’s plans to launch the first spacecraft to monitor our planet. More importantly, the two men had a deep discussion about training Saudi youth, as transforming the Kingdom from a consumer of technology to a world-leading technological hub is a critical component of the crown prince’s vision for his country.
Saudi youth should realize that space exploration drives innovation in other areas, as the same technology that makes space exploration possible can be applied to completely different fields.
As I was doing research for this article, I was surprised to discover that the same software that NASA uses to enhance the imagery that it captures from the stars is also being used for breast cancer diagnosis. It turns out that the same algorithms that the software employs to tell the differences between stars can also be used to more accurately interpret differences in breast tissue density, which cannot always be interpreted correctly by the human eye alone.
Whether it is exploring the cosmos, transforming their Kingdom or saving lives, Saudi youth will surely be inspired by their Emirati brothers who will go beyond Earth’s orbit soon. It is clear that the youth of both countries have a shared desire to fulfill their potential through their ambitions and love for their homelands. Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan said it best: “As space has no limits, there are also no limits to our ambitions to accomplish greater achievements for our country.”
Reem Daffa is vice president and executive director of the Saudi American Public Relation Affairs Committee (SAPRAC).