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


Houthis abduct three civilians from Yemeni village

Houthis abduct three civilians from Yemeni village
Updated 23 April 2021

Houthis abduct three civilians from Yemeni village

Houthis abduct three civilians from Yemeni village

ADEN: Houthi "terrorists" have abducted three civilians from the Yemeni village of "Beit Al-Jabr" in the governorate of Dhamar, the Saudi Press Agency reported on Friday.

The Houthis took their victims to a detention center in Jabal Al-Sharq district, in the same governorate controlled by the Iran-backed group, the report said.

The raiders claimed they were taking the victims under the pretext of setting up a funeral council, but the official Yemeni News Agency (Saba) quoted a local source as saying there was no such plan to establish a funeral council, SPA said.

According to the Saba source, the storming of the village was consistent with the "systematic policy of harassment" that the Houthi militia follows in dealing with the population in all areas under their control, SPA added.

Houthis earlier abducted Yemeni model and actress Entesar Al-Hammadi and two of her friends on Feb. 20 as they were traveling to shoot a TV drama series.

On Thursday, the captors reportedly placed Al-Hammadi in solitary confinement as punishment for her protest against her initial incarceration and prison conditions.


Credible Palestinian elections crucial for peace and unity, says UN

Credible Palestinian elections crucial for peace and unity, says UN
Updated 23 April 2021

Credible Palestinian elections crucial for peace and unity, says UN

Credible Palestinian elections crucial for peace and unity, says UN
  • Envoy Tor Wennesland said the road will not be easy, and called on all sides to protect voting rights
  • Central Elections Commission praised for “professionalism and integrity” and its efforts to ensure safe voting during pandemic.

NEW YORK: The successful staging of credible Palestinian elections on May 22 is a crucial step toward unity and guaranteeing the legitimacy of national institutions, the UN Security Council heard on Thursday.
Tor Wennesland, the UN’s special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, told council members that the elections, along with Israeli efforts to form a coalition government, will have a “significant implication for the prospects for advancing peace in the months ahead,” and called on the international community to provide support.
“Expectations for the holding of elections in Palestine are high and come after a long wait of almost 15 years … a growing number of young people are expected to participate in shaping their political future, and have the opportunity to vote for the first time,” Wennesland said.
“These elections should also pave the way to uniting Gaza and the West Bank under a single, legitimate national authority, which would be an important step toward reconciliation and could advance Middle East peace.”
He praised the Palestinian Central Elections Commission for its “professionalism and integrity, enhancing trust in the electoral process,” singling out in particular the committee’s efforts to create a safe voting environment during the pandemic.
He also underscored the importance of the role of election observers in ensuring that the results of “credible and transparent” elections are respected.
“All sides must work toward protecting the right of Palestinians across the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem and Gaza, to participate in credible and inclusive Palestinian elections, as well as to stand for election free from intimidation,” said Wennesland.
He urged all those involved in the process “to refrain from any arrest, detention or interrogation based on freedom of opinion, expression or association.”
The COVID-19 pandemic continues to pose “a formidable threat” throughout the occupied Palestinian territories, further exacerbating an already dire social and economic situation, Wennesland said as he called for vaccination efforts to be stepped up and for more vaccine doses to be made available.
The Biden administration this month announced its plans for resuming US funding for the UN Relief and Work Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA), which was halted in August 2018 by President Donald Trump. Wennesland welcomed the move by Washington and called on all UN members to recommit to supporting the agency, whose “services are not only a lifeline for millions of Palestine refugees but are also critical for stability throughout the region.”
The envoy repeated his call for Israel to halt the demolition and seizure of Palestinian properties and to allow the Palestinian people “to develop their communities.”
Denouncing the “daily violence” that has resulted in more arrests, injuries and deaths, Wennesland called on all sides “to de-escalate tensions and maintain calm.”
He added: “I underscore that all perpetrators of violence must be held accountable and swiftly brought to justice. I reiterate that Israeli security forces must exercise maximum restraint and may use lethal force only when strictly unavoidable in order to protect life.
“Particular care should be taken to protect children from any form of violence. In addition, the indiscriminate launching of rockets toward Israeli population centers violates international law and must stop immediately.”


Iraqi military: 3 rockets strike close to Baghdad airport

Iraqi military: 3 rockets strike close to Baghdad airport
Updated 23 April 2021

Iraqi military: 3 rockets strike close to Baghdad airport

Iraqi military: 3 rockets strike close to Baghdad airport

BAGHDAD: At least three rockets hit near Baghdad international airport late Thursday, the Iraqi military said.
A total of eight missiles were fired and three landed near the airport complex, the statement said. It did not detail whether the attack caused casualties.
The rockets struck areas known to contain Iraqi security forces. One hit close to a central prison, the second near an academy of the elite Counter-Terrorism Service, and a third near the headquarters of the Rapid Response regiment.
No one claimed responsibility for the attacks. US officials have previously blamed Iran-backed militia groups.
It is the latest in a string of rocket attacks that have primarily targeted American installations in Iraq in recent weeks. On Sunday, multiple rockets hit an Iraqi air base just north of Baghdad, wounding two Iraqi security personnel.
Last month, a base in western Iraq housing US-led coalition troops and contractors was hit by 10 rockets. One contractor was killed.
Calls from mainly Shiite leaders have grown to oust US troops from Iraq after a US-directed drone strike killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani and an Iraqi militia leader in Baghdad in January 2020.
Strategic talks between the US and Iraq have focused on the future of US troop presence in the country.


Syrian missile exploding in Israel not intentional: US general

Syrian missile exploding in Israel not intentional: US general
Updated 23 April 2021

Syrian missile exploding in Israel not intentional: US general

Syrian missile exploding in Israel not intentional: US general
  • Israeli media also described the Syrian missile as an “errant” projectile, not a deliberate attack deep inside Israel
  • Dimona, the Negev desert town where Israel’s nuclear reactor is located, is some 300 km south of Damascus

WASHINGTON/JERUSALEM: A senior US general said on Thursday that he believed a Syrian missile exploding in Israel was not intentional, but rather showed a lack of Syrian air defense capability.

“I think it reflects actually incompetence in Syrian air defense ... I do not believe it was an intentional attack,” Marine Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, head of US Central Command, said during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing

Earlier in the day, a Syrian anti-aircraft missile landed in southern Israel, setting off air raid sirens near the country’s top secret nuclear reactor. In response, it attacked the missile launcher and air-defense systems in neighboring Syria.

Israeli media later described the Syrian missile as an “errant” projectile, not a deliberate attack deep inside Israel.

In recent years, Israel has repeatedly launched air strikes at Syria, including at military targets linked to foes Iran and the Lebanese Hezbollah militia, both allies of Syrian President Bashar Assad. Such strikes routinely draw Syrian anti-aircraft fire. Thursday’s exchange was unusual because the Syrian projectile landed deep inside Israel.

A road sign shows the way to Dimona nuclear power plant in Israel's Negev desert. (AFP / Ahmad Gharabali)

Syria’s state news agency SANA said the exchange began with an Israeli air strike on Dumeir, a suburb of the capital of Damascus. Dumeir is believed to house Syrian army installations and batteries as well as bases and weapons depots belonging to Iran-backed militias. SANA said four soldiers were wounded.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition war monitoring group based in Britain that tracks Syria’s civil war, said the Israeli strikes hit an air defense base belonging to the Syrian military and destroyed air defense batteries in the area. It said the Syrian military fired surface-to-air missiles in response.

The Israeli military described the projectile that landed near the nuclear site as a surface-to-air missile, which is usually used for air defense against warplanes or other missiles.

Dimona, the Negev desert town where Israel’s nuclear reactor is located, is some 300 km south of Damascus, a long range for an errantly fired surface-to-air missile.

 

 


Houthis throw abducted model Al-Hammadi into solitary confinement

Houthis throw abducted model Al-Hammadi into solitary confinement
Updated 23 April 2021

Houthis throw abducted model Al-Hammadi into solitary confinement

Houthis throw abducted model Al-Hammadi into solitary confinement
  • Lawyer says Houthi prosecutor questioned Al-Hammadi inside Yemen central prison after refusing to transfer her for a court trial
  • Yemeni model, 20, and two colleagues were abducted from Sanaa street on Feb. 20

AL MUKALLA: Iran-backed Houthis have thrown abducted Yemeni model and actress Entesar Al-Hammadi into solitary confinement as punishment for her protest against the initial incarceration and prison conditions, the model’s lawyer said on Thursday.

Khaled Mohammed Al-Kamal told Arab News that a prosecutor from the rebel-controlled West Sanaa court on Wednesday questioned the model inside the central prison after officials refused to transfer her for a court trial over the past few weeks.

When the investigation ended, the 20-year-old Al-Hammadi verbally clashed with a captor and shouted out about the abduction and miserable prison conditions she had experienced.

Prison officials responded to the outburst by holding Al-Hammadi in solitary confinement, the lawyer said.

“She was separated from her colleagues,” Al-Kamal said. “She is going through bad psychological conditions inside the prison.”

Al-Hammadi and two of her friends were abducted from a Sanaa street on Feb. 20. Yemeni officials said the three actresses were traveling to shoot a TV drama series when the rebels stopped their vehicle on Sanaa’s Hadda Street and took them to an unknown location.

The abduction is the latest in a string of attacks by the Houthis on dissidents and liberal women in areas under the group’s control.

Local and international groups along with government officials have strongly condemned the abduction and called upon the rebels to release them. The Houthis have ignored demands and pledged to put them on trial but to no avail.

Al-Kamal said there were no clear accusations against the model, but he suspected that the Houthis might accuse her of committing “an immoral act,” for not covering her hair or walking without a male guardian in the street.

“I was very optimistic that my client would be released since the prosecutor did not find clear accusations against her,” he said.

Al-Hammadi had participated in two TV drama series and spoken publicly about her ambition of becoming an international supermodel. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Al-Hammadi used social media to promote traditional Yemeni dresses and beauty products.

The detainment of the actresses has sparked outrage inside and outside Yemen as human rights activists and government officials compared Houthi suppression of women to similar activities by terrorist organizations such as Al-Qaeda and Daesh.

In other developments around Sanaa, the Yemen Journalist Union said armed Houthis confiscated a media center after accusing them of collaborating with the internationally recognized Yemen government and the Arab coalition.

Taha Al-Ma’ameri, director of Yemen Digital Media, alerted the union that armed Houthis stormed the center and expelled workers and guards while replacing them with others.

The union accused the Houthis of fabricating accusations against independent media outlets in order to seize them. It also urged Arab and international journalist unions to support Yemen Digital Media by pressuring the Houthis into ending their crackdown on independent journalists.