How the UAE’s Mars mission can be the Arab world’s springboard to the future

The unmanned probe — named
The unmanned probe — named "Al-Amal," Arabic for "Hope" — blasted off from Japan last year, marking the next step in the United Arab Emirates' ambitious space program. (AFP/File Photo)
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Updated 16 February 2021

How the UAE’s Mars mission can be the Arab world’s springboard to the future

The unmanned probe — named "Al-Amal," Arabic for "Hope" — blasted off from Japan last year, marking the next step in the United Arab Emirates' ambitious space program. (AFP/File Photo)
  • For the first time ever, an Arab nation has gone beyond applied science and technology to successfully engage in space exploration
  • If the Hope mission has a positive educational effect across the Arab world, it will be a transformative achievement

SHARJAH: The successful entry of the UAE’s Hope probe into orbit around Mars is a historic event on the scientific, educational, and strategic levels. Indeed, for the first time ever, an Arab nation has gone beyond applied space science and technology (satellites, essentially) and successfully invested and engaged in space exploration.

It is important to underline the mission’s wider and embracing slogan, “Arabs to Mars,” which stresses the idea that this project is greater than just the UAE joining a select club of space-faring nations. It is about leading the Arab world into deep space, into the future.

Now that Hope probe is set for its scientific agenda and the UAE is set to become a science-producing nation in the space arena, it is important to reflect on the significance of this event for the Arab world and the vistas that it opens for its people.

As great as the scientific agenda of the mission is (providing in-depth, close-up, and global explorations of the Martian atmosphere), the impact that this is likely to have on the Arab world, particularly its ambitious youth, will be multifaceted and strong.




Emirati men are pictured at the mission control center for the "Hope" Mars probe at the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre in Dubai on July 19, 2020, ahead of its expected launch from Japan.  (AFP/File Photo)

Indeed, this quantum-leap event tells Arabs — or at least this is how it should be understood — that science is the way to the future, and Mars (with all the scientific and technical know-how that will have been acquired) is simply a springboard to that future.

Since the launch of Hope, last July, followed by the Chinese mission to Mars, Tianwen-1, and the American one, Mars 2020, I have noticed an important change in the views expressed by many Arabs and people in the region.

Until then, most people seemed bewildered by the “wasteful” Hope mission (although $200 million is really not much for such a big endeavor) and often asked “what’s the benefit in there?”, “why don’t you spend money helping the poor around the world.”

Indeed, the utilitarian standpoint is so prevalent in the Arab world that last July, two weeks before the launch of Hope, I took part in a panel titled “Why spend money on space science?”, a question I am asked time and again.




H-2A rocket carrying the Hope Probe, known as "Al-Amal" in Arabic, developed by the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC) in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to explore Mars, blasts off from Tanegashima Space Centre in southwestern Japan. (AFP/Mitsubishi Heavy Industries/File Photo)

My reply, depending on my interlocutors or audience, usually revolves around the following points. First, before anyone criticizes space-science budgets (a grand total of roughly $50 billion in the whole world, averaging $6.5 per year for each human being), they should take a look at military budgets ($1,750 billion worldwide in 2019, 35 times more than the worldwide space budget).

Secondly, space science brings many direct benefits (think of all the applications of satellites, starting with GPS, which each of us uses almost every day) as well as indirect ones, as we explore, discover, learn, widen our horizons, and think of new things.

Last but not least, space is a field that fascinates people, especially youngsters, and leads them to embark on various exciting careers that benefit their nations and the world at large.

READ MORE: UAE’s ‘Hope’ probe sends home first image of Mars

UAE Hope Probe expected to provide first complete picture of Mars in one week

Interestingly, since the launch of Hope, I have been hearing the “why waste money on Mars and in space” viewpoint less often. Surveys on attitudes toward science, technology, and space are being conducted in the region, and it will be highly interesting to see how those attitudes have evolved recently and will evolve in the future.

It is worth noting that in the decade following John Kennedy’s “to the moon” announcement, the number of Ph.D. holders in the US tripled in the physical sciences and quadrupled in engineering. And a 2009 survey found that 50 percent of the internationally renowned scientists who have published in Nature (the premier scientific research journal) had been inspired to become scientists by the US moon program.

I am convinced that the Hope mission will have a similar effect in the Arab world. We are already seeing such results in the UAE, where the number of students who are choosing physics, astronomy, and space has increased manifold in recent years.




Visitors watch an air craft maintenance competition during the "World Skills" International competition in Abu Dhabi on October 18, 2017. (AFP/File Photo)

If the Hope mission produces that kind of educational effect in the wider Arab world, it will be a magnificent, transformative achievement that historians will be discussing for decades or even centuries.

In fact, I believe that the project can achieve even greater objectives than that lofty educational goal. It could also lead to a quantum leap in science and technology production in the Arab world.

How could that be achieved? First, Arab scientists, decision makers, and opinion makers need to embrace the “basic” (that is, not applied) type of science and knowledge that space exploration represents. Simply put, Arab countries cannot become “developed” by limiting their development to applied fields; technology goes hand in hand with science, and with broader knowledge.

It is not a coincidence that astronomy (which has little if any direct applications in our everyday lives) was the first big science to blossom and flourish during the Arab-Islamic civilization and the last one to wane. And yet, today, the number of properly operating and science-producing astronomical observatories in the entire Arab world can be counted on the fingers of one hand.

Most Arab countries have locations and weather that favor the erection of astronomical observatories, which are not very expensive; this should be pursued promptly and in earnest.

Likewise, several Arab countries, particularly the UAE and Oman, are geographically well placed (low latitude, sea or ocean to the east, etc.) to host space rocket launch facilities. This could be one of the next projects to embark on, to build platforms from where to launch both our own rockets and those of others (for profit).




A handout picture provided on February 14, 2021 by the United Arab Emirates Space Agency (UAESA) taken by the Emirates eXploration Imager (EXI) after Mars Orbit Insertion (MOI) on board the First Emirates Mars Mission (EMM) from an altitude of 24,700 km above the Martian surface shows the Olympus Mons, the highest volcano on Mars, and the Tharsis Montes, three volcanoes named (top to bottom) Ascraeus Mons, Pavonis Mons and Arsia Mons. (AFP/File Photo)

Moreover, as we have seen with NASA for the last 60 years or so, technological spin-offs from space programs can be adopted and applied in other areas of life and economy, such as medical facilities, transportation, telecommunications, and more.

Last but not least, the new Arab space strategy (at least six states have space agencies now) should lead to important reviews of Arab educational programs. Universities must revisit, update, and upgrade their curricula, including the creation of new departments and specializations (space science, artificial intelligence, etc).

It is not acceptable, or even logical, for the Arab world to have half a dozen space agencies but fewer space-science departments and specialized programs.

We urgently need to train students in both applied space science (for example, remote sensing) and astronomy (Mars and beyond), to support and complement the work of the Arab space agencies. In fact, we need a wider update and revamping of higher-education programs in the Arab world, but that is another discussion.

The Hope mission to Mars can be truly transformative if everyone aims high and believes that science is the key to a knowledge-based economy and future. Let us use this historic event to rebuild Arab scientific, technological, and educational institutions, to strengthen national, regional and international collaborations, and to give Arab youngsters a vision and plan for a bright future.

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Nidhal Guessoum is a professor of physics and astronomy at the American University of Sharjah. Twitter: @NidhalGuessoum


TankerTrackers says third tanker carrying fuel to Lebanon underway

TankerTrackers says third tanker carrying fuel to Lebanon underway
Updated 19 September 2021

TankerTrackers says third tanker carrying fuel to Lebanon underway

TankerTrackers says third tanker carrying fuel to Lebanon underway
  • The first tanker ship carried the fuel to Syria and from there it was taken into Lebanon on tanker trucks on Thursday
  • Mikati said on Friday the Iranian fuel shipments constitute a breach of Lebanon’s sovereignty

DUBAI: A third tanker has sailed from Iran carrying Iranian fuel for distribution in Lebanon, TankerTrackers.com reported on Twitter on Sunday.
Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati said on Friday the Iranian fuel shipments, imported by the Hezbollah movement, constitute a breach of Lebanon’s sovereignty.
The Iran-aligned group says the shipments should ease a crippling energy crisis in Lebanon.
The first tanker ship carried the fuel to Syria and from there it was taken into Lebanon on tanker trucks on Thursday.
Both Syria and Iran are under US sanctions.


Iran museums reopen after year-long COVID-19 break

Iran museums reopen after year-long COVID-19 break
Updated 19 September 2021

Iran museums reopen after year-long COVID-19 break

Iran museums reopen after year-long COVID-19 break
  • A country with a millennia-long history, Iran has an abundance of 746 museums
  • Iran’s museums attracted more than 21 million visitors in the year before the outbreak of COVID-19

TEHRAN: Iran reopened museums in Tehran and other cities Sunday after a more than year-long closure because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Museums in Tehran and other large cities that are no longer red-coded, meaning the risk of contracting the virus was very high, reopened on Sunday,” the director of Iran’s museums, Mohammad-Reza Kargar, said.
“Tourists and visitors are welcome to return while observing (sanitary) measures.”
A country with a millennia-long history, Iran has an abundance of 746 museums, including 170 in the capital.
“We are absolutely delighted, and we think the people are too because they were fed up with staying home, and visiting museums improves their mood,” Kargar said in his tourism and heritage ministry office.
“We have safety protocols in place of course, and the number of visitors will be dependent on the space at our sites so the public stays safe and healthy.”
Kargar said only students, researchers and staff were allowed into museums during the past 14 months.
Iran’s museums attracted more than 21 million visitors in the year before the outbreak of COVID-19 that forced museums to close in May 2020.
On Sunday, the National Museum of Iran with its magnificent collection of treasures dating back to the Bronze and Iron ages was still deserted.
“We have to wait for the news to spread and schools to reopen for people to come back,” explained Firouzeh Sepidnameh, head of the museum’s pre-Islamic collections.
Iran, the worst-hit country in the Middle East, has confirmed more than 5.4 million cases of coronavirus, including 117,000 deaths, according to figures issued Sunday by the health ministry.
Out of a population of 83 million, 29 million Iranians have received a first dose of vaccination and almost 14 million have been fully vaccinated against the virus.


UN ‘strongly condemns’ Houthi execution of 9 civilians

UN ‘strongly condemns’ Houthi execution of 9 civilians
Updated 19 September 2021

UN ‘strongly condemns’ Houthi execution of 9 civilians

UN ‘strongly condemns’ Houthi execution of 9 civilians
  • Secretary-General Antonio Guterres: Men shot in public did not receive fair trial
  • The US Embassy to Yemen also condemned the “brutal” executions and called for such “barbarism” to end

NEW YORK: UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres condemned the Houthis on Sunday for executing nine civilians without a fair trial, one of whom was 15 at the time of detention.

Guterres’s spokesman said that the UN chief “deeply regrets” the Houthi executions and “strongly condemns these actions which are a result of judicial proceedings that do not appear to have fulfilled the requirements of fair trial and due process under international law.”

The nine men were shot in the back after they were forced to lie on the floor in public. They were charged with involvement in the killing of the Houthi leader Saleh Al-Samad in 2018 by an Arab Coalition air strike.

The group were accused of putting SIM cards in the pockets of Al-Samad’s guards, helping the coalition locate him.

Al-Samad, then president of the Houthi Supreme Political Council, was visiting Hodeidah in April 2018 to incite residents to join the war when the coalition hit his convoy, killing him along with six others, and inflicting a heavy blow to the Houthis.

Guterres said he opposes the use of the death penalty in all circumstances and reiterated that “international law sets stringent conditions for the application of the death penalty, including compliance with fair trial and due process standards as stipulated under international law.”

The UN chief called on all parties and authorities to adopt a moratorium on carrying out of the death penalty.

He also urged all everyine to cease violence in Yemen, and work with the UN to revive peace talks.

The US Embassy to Yemen also condemned the “brutal” executions and called for such “barbarism” to end.

Charge d'Affaires Cathy Westley said that “This outrageous action is another example of the Houthis indifference to basic human rights and follows only days after their attack on the commercial port of Mocha.”


UAE daily COVID-19 cases at lowest in over a year

UAE daily COVID-19 cases at lowest in over a year
Updated 19 September 2021

UAE daily COVID-19 cases at lowest in over a year

UAE daily COVID-19 cases at lowest in over a year
  • The UAE government earlier introduced a booster shot drive for fully vaccinated individuals

DUBAI: Daily coronavirus cases in the UAE were at their lowest in over a year on Sunday, with the Gulf state’s high vaccination rate among its population ensuring community immunity against the highly transmissible disease.

The Ministry of Health and Prevention  (MoHAP) confirmed that 391 people had tested positive in the last 24 hours, the lowest since Aug. 30 last year with 362 cases, as well as two deaths due to COVID-19 complications.

The number of people who have tested positive in the UAE since the pandemic started stands at 732,690 with 2,075 fatalities.

MoHAP earlier said 91.93 percent of its almost 10 million population have received at least a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine – one of the fastest vaccination campaigns in the world – while 81.08 percent of residents and citizens have been fully vaccinated.

The UAE government earlier introduced a booster shot drive for individuals who were inoculated particularly with the Sinopharm vaccine to increase immunity against the virus.

A total 19,412,656 doses have been administered so far, for a vaccine distribution rate equivalent to 196.28 doses per 100 people.

The continued decline in COVID-19 numbers in the UAE has prompted Abu Dhabi to lift COVID-19 testing requirements for residents before they are allowed entry into the emirate.

The COVID-19 checkpoint at the Abu Dhabi-Dubai was removed just after midnight on Sunday.

The decision follows the announcement of a decreased COVID-19 infection rate in the emirate of 0.2 percent of total tests and the activation of the green pass system to enter some public places, the Abu Dhabi Emergency, Crisis and Disasters Committee said in a statement.

The committee also approved home quarantine without the use of wristbands for international travellers and those in contact with positive cases.

COVID-19 positive individuals in the emirate are however still required to wear a wristband as part of monitoring to ensure compliance with precautionary measures.


Oman to open mosques for Friday prayers to those vaccinated

Oman to open mosques for Friday prayers to those vaccinated
Updated 19 September 2021

Oman to open mosques for Friday prayers to those vaccinated

Oman to open mosques for Friday prayers to those vaccinated
  • Those who meet the requirement can apply for a permit online to attend Friday prayers

DUBAI: Oman will allow people who received two doses of the covid-19 vaccine to perform Friday prayers at mosques from next month, the sultanate said Sunday. 

The country’s Ministry of Endowments and Religious Affairs that those who meet the requirement can apply for a permit online to attend Friday prayers. 

The ministry also said it will form a team of volunteers to verify that those entering the mosque have taken two doses of the coronavirus vaccine.

The mosques and its annexes will be operated at 50 percent of their capacity while maintaining social distancing will remain a must. Attendees will also be required to being their own prayer rug and wear a mask.