How Hope Mars mission put the Arab world back in the space exploration game

Special Dr Mohamed Abid, a chief engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California. Originally from Tunisia, Abid today works as NASA’s payload chief engineer, overseeing the return of samples from the Red Planet. (AFP)
Dr Mohamed Abid, a chief engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California. Originally from Tunisia, Abid today works as NASA’s payload chief engineer, overseeing the return of samples from the Red Planet. (AFP)
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Updated 23 November 2021

How Hope Mars mission put the Arab world back in the space exploration game

Dr Mohamed Abid, a chief engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California. Originally from Tunisia, Abid today works as NASA’s payload chief engineer, overseeing the return of samples from the Red Planet. (AFP)
  • NASA engineer Mohamed Abid says the UAE’s successful mission has inspired young Arabs 
  • Abid says Arab investment in space tech shows the Middle East is on the right track

DUBAI: One small step for the UAE came as a giant leap for the Arab world last February when the UAE became the first Middle East nation to mount a successful unmanned mission to Mars. According to one NASA scientist, the region has shown that it has immense potential in space exploration.

The UAE probe, named Hope, which was launched in July 2020 from Japan’s Tanegashima Space Center to study the Mars atmosphere, reached its destination earlier this year. The mission has inspired a whole generation of young Arabs to consider a career in space engineering.

“There is a lot of potential among the youth in the MENA region,” Dr Mohamed Abid, a chief engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, told Arab News, referring to the Middle East and North Africa. “Through this mission, a lot of Arab youth now feel they can get involved because they have an example of a mission or a program in front of them.

“That whole notion that you cannot do it because you are from the Middle East has been shown to be an illusion. It’s now a reality and it’s a big deal for the youth and a common theme I get.”

Abid, who mentors young people at schools and universities about how to break into careers in space technology, said that interest has skyrocketed since the Hope mission was accomplished.

“A lot of them are highly motivated and interested in how to engage in space,” Abid said. “They’re very enthusiastic; they have huge dreams. It’s not just dreams, but realizable goals. It’s definitely more accessible than back in my time.”

Originally from Tunisia, Abid today works as NASA’s payload chief engineer, overseeing the return of samples from the Red Planet. He has held multiple top-ranking positions during his 17-year career, including a stint as the Mars 2020 deputy chief mechanical engineer.

Although fascinated by space from a young age, Abid never dreamed that he would end up working for NASA. “I thought this was not a place for everybody. It was a place for ‘special people’ — not people from Tunisia,” he said.

Abid said that he vividly remembers the Challenger disaster of 1986, when the Space Shuttle suffered a catastrophic failure and broke apart shortly after lift-off from Cape Canaveral, Florida, killing all seven crew members.




This handout picture made available by the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC) on July 9, 2020, shows technicians working at the centre, in the Gulf emirate of Dubai. (AFP/File Photo)

It was partly the subsequent strenuous effort to prevent such a tragedy from happening again that piqued Abid’s interest in space engineering.

“I witnessed NASA’s Space Shuttle Challenger incident in the late 1980s on the news,” he said. “That’s when I decided I really wanted to work in space and that would be my target and dream.”

After obtaining a Ph.D. from the aerospace and mechanical engineering department at the University of Southern California, Abid became a lecturer at USC and later published a textbook titled “Spacecraft Sensors.”

Between semesters he signed up for internships in research laboratories, exploring everything from particle physics to quantum theory. “That was an extremely great opportunity for me to diversify my experience and deepen my understanding of various fields,” he told Arab News.

So, what advice does Abid have for the young people he mentors who dream of someday working for the likes of NASA?




A picture taken on July 19, 2020 shows Dubai's Burj Khalifa lit up in support of the United Arab Emirates "Hope" Mars probe, ahead of it's expected launch from Japan. (AFP/File Photo)

“It’s about finding something you’re passionate about, understanding the field and using it as a learning opportunity. It’s about getting the experience under your belt to share and have extracurricular activities that show the breadth of that person. That was definitely a huge contributor to how I ended up at NASA today,” he said.

“My ultimate goal was always to join one of the NASA centers, but it’s never a straight line. You have to find your way, keep it as your end goal, don’t lose focus, but maximize your chances.”

Abid was invited to speak about Mars missions at the International Symposium on Networks, Computers and Communications 2021, organized by the Canadian University Dubai, in early November. He told delegates that he has little doubt that Arab youth will be taking significant strides forward in the field of space exploration.

“Having a country other than the US, China, India or Russia make it to Mars is great news. It shows that the Red Planet is accessible to a lot of countries and that the technology is there around the world for many countries to join,” he said.

FASTFACTS

* Scholars of the Arab world have gazed at the stars with curiosity and genius for centuries.

* The first observatory was built in the 8th century by Abbasid Caliph Al-Mamun ibn Al-Rashid in Baghdad.

* KSA’s Prince Sultan bin Salman became the first Arab in space when he flew aboard the US space shuttle Discovery in 1985.

* Today, 9 Middle East countries have space programs ranging from putting satellites into Earth’s orbit to planning for a lunar landing.

* UAE space program has about $5.4bn in public-private support.

* The UAE Mars mission cost about $200m.

Source: Arab Center Washington, D.C.

“It opened up the door to expand the contribution and participation of other nations to help the overall scheme and (achieve the) ultimate goal to land someone on Mars, and it opened up that door for the Arab world that we can go to Mars and we know how to do it.”

The Hope probe’s mission was a “huge technological achievement” for the Arab world, he said, with the UAE now among a small club of nations who have made it to Mars. For Abid, it sends a strong message to the world that the Middle East is on the right track, contributing to human progress.




Dr Mohamed Abid, a chief engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California. (Supplied)

“It’s a stepping stone that there is a set of knowledge that has been acquired,” he said. “The question now is what you do with that knowledge, which is really important because it’s about building on that momentum to get to the next step.”

The UAE is not alone in establishing an Arab space program. According to Dr Mohammad bin Saud Al-Tamimi, CEO of the Saudi Space Commission, the sector is a focus of the Vision 2030 agenda, which aims to diversify the Kingdom’s economy away from oil.

Saudi Arabia launched 16 satellites into space between 2000 and 2019. In March this year, the Kingdom launched two satellites, including the first one to be developed by a local university, according to the Saudi Press Agency.




According to one NASA scientist, the Middle East region has shown that it has immense potential in space exploration. (AFP/File Photos)

Shaheen Sat 17, from King Abdul Aziz City for Science and Technology (KACST), and CubeSat, from King Saud University (KSU), were launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on board Russia’s Soyuz-2 carrier rocket.

“This achievement was the fruit of the great support that the Kingdom’s research, development, and innovation sector receives from King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman,” said KACST chief Dr. Anas bin Faris Al-Faris.

In October, the Saudi Space Commission joined the International Astronautical Federation.

Globally, the space industry’s potential cannot be overestimated. A recent study by Morgan Stanley revealed that the space economy could be worth more than $1 trillion by 2040.

Last year, the UAE announced plans to send a compact rover, “Rashid,” to study the surface of the moon in 2024. If successful, the mission would make the UAE only the fourth country to operate a craft on the moon, and the first among Arab nations.




An 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/File Photo)

“Those are huge technological goals that will play out very well and become a source of motivation for the youth in general,” Abid said.

“If you’re in school and you see that you can work on space, launch rockets, explore different planets and expand on that exploration, then it is a monumental achievement and this needs to continue.

“We have proof that it can be done, and there is more to be done, and it’s up to the imagination of the youth to see what the next mission is that could help us on earth.

“At the end of the day, humans are explorers, and this is an avenue to help us in that endeavor.”

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Twitter: @CalineMalek


Lebanon suggests amendments to maritime border deal with Israel

Lebanon suggests amendments to maritime border deal with Israel
Updated 05 October 2022

Lebanon suggests amendments to maritime border deal with Israel

Lebanon suggests amendments to maritime border deal with Israel

BEIRUT: Lebanon has submitted to the US a list of changes it would like to see in a proposal on how to delineate a contested maritime border with Israel, a top Lebanese official said on Tuesday.
US envoy Amos Hochstein has shuttled between Lebanon and Israel since 2020 to seal a deal that would pave the way for offshore energy exploration and defuse a potential source of conflict between Israel and Iran-backed Lebanese group Hezbollah.
Hochstein sent a draft proposal to Beirut last week. It was discussed on Monday by President Michel Aoun, Prime Minister Najib Mikati and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri.
Deputy speaker of parliament Elias Bou Saab said he had earlier that day submitted to the US ambassador in Lebanon the amendments Beirut would like to see, without providing details.


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Will maritime-border settlement imply Lebanon’s indirect recognition of Israel?


He said he does not think the proposed changes would derail the deal and that, while the response did not signify approval of the draft, talks were so advanced that “we are done negotiating.”
Speaking to local broadcaster LBCI, he said the draft deal had been produced by thinking “outside of the box.”
“We started to talk about it as a business deal,” Bou Saab said.
The 10-page draft appears to float an arrangement whereby gas would be produced by a company under a Lebanese license in the disputed Qana prospect, with Israel receiving a share of revenues.

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While that company has been officially named, Lebanese officials have publicly suggested a role for TotalEnergies SE . A top Israeli official was meeting company representatives in Paris on Monday, according to a source briefed on the matter.
Bou Saab on Tuesday said that, according to the draft deal, Lebanon had secured all of the maritime blocs it considered its own.
He added that Lebanon will not pay one cent from its share of Qana to Israel.

 

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Jordan’s King Abdullah meets with sultan in Oman

Jordan’s King Abdullah meets with sultan in Oman
Updated 04 October 2022

Jordan’s King Abdullah meets with sultan in Oman

Jordan’s King Abdullah meets with sultan in Oman
  • King Abdullah expressed appreciation for Oman’s efforts to bolster security and stability in the region
  • Two leaders agreed to advance joint economic cooperation in trade, investment, and industry

RIYADH: Jordan’s King Abdullah II and Oman’s Sultan Haitham bin Tariq on Tuesday expressed keenness to bolster bilateral relations in all fields during a meeting in Muscat.

During talks held at Al-Alam Palace in Muscat, the two leaders agreed to advance joint economic cooperation in trade, investment, and industry, Jordan News Agency reported.

King Abdullah and Sultan Haitham stressed the need to step up the trade exchange between their countries and called for the Oman-Jordan Joint Committee to reconvene after the king’s visit.

The importance of bolstering cooperation between the private sectors in the two countries and maintaining coordination and consultation on various issues of mutual concern including food security and energy was also discussed.

King Abdullah expressed appreciation for Oman’s continuous efforts to bolster security and stability in the region.

The monarch also highlighted the importance of supporting the Palestinians to seek their just and legitimate rights, and the need to achieve a just and comprehensive peace based on the two-state solution.

The meeting was attended by Crown Prince Hussein bin Abdullah II.


Yemen govt slams Houthi threats to attack oil ships

Yemen govt slams Houthi threats to attack oil ships
Updated 04 October 2022

Yemen govt slams Houthi threats to attack oil ships

Yemen govt slams Houthi threats to attack oil ships
  • Houthis ordered operators to stop shipping oil and minerals from government-controlled regions
  • Militia group refused to renew UN truce and resumed aggressive military operations in Marib, Taiz, and Dhale

AL-MUKALLA: The internationally recognized government of Yemen has slammed Houthi threats to attack oil ships and called for international action to stop the group from damaging civilian infrastructure and power sources.

Yemeni Foreign Minister Ahmed Awad bin Mubarak described the threats as “criminal and terrorist activity,” adding that the Iran-backed Houthis had no respect for international agreements prohibiting attacks on civilian facilities.

“Such a threat is unmistakable evidence of these groups’ terrorist nature, which is nothing new to Yemenis. It is crucial that the world understands how this terrorist organization operates and how it disregards fundamental international laws and conventions,” he told Arab News on Tuesday.

The minister’s comments came as the Aden-based Ministry of Transportation urged foreign shipping companies to continue their operations despite Houthi demands that they stop movements of the country’s oil.

In a letter sent on Monday to agents of shipping firms operating in Yemen, the ministry’s Maritime Affairs Authority said they should carry on exporting the nation’s oil, gas, and minerals from government-controlled ports and not comply with Houthi demands or threats.

“Memoranda or circulars will not be considered unless they are issued by Aden’s Presidency of the General Authority for Maritime Affairs,” the government’s maritime body said in the letter seen by Arab News.

The Yemen government’s request came a day after the Houthis officially ordered ship operators to stop transporting oil and minerals from government-controlled regions, threatening to target their vessels if the demand was ignored.

On Sunday, hours before a UN-brokered truce expired, the Houthis’ Minister of Transport Abdul-Wahab Yahya Al-Durra sent a letter requesting firms to cease shipping the country’s oil and other natural resources by 6 p.m., accusing them of looting Yemen’s resources.

“Any navigation activity that violates standard procedures will be treated as an illegal act that jeopardizes national interests, and we hold you fully responsible for violating it,” the Houthi minister said in his letter, also seen by Arab News.

The Yemeni militia group has refused to renew the UN truce and has resumed aggressive military operations in Marib, Taiz, and Dhale.

The Houthis threatened to target oil ships docking in government-controlled areas in a bid to deprive the government of financial resources unless it paid all public employees in areas under the group’s control, reopened Sanaa airport, and lifted alleged restrictions on fuel ship movements through Hodeidah port.

The Houthis’ refusal to open roads in Taiz has also hampered efforts to keep the truce in place.

The Yemeni government has said that the Houthis should pay public employees in their areas with the millions of dollars earned from fuel ships passing through Hodeidah port during the truce.

Yemen’s Oil Minister Saeed Al-Shumasi recently told Al-Ghad Mushreq TV that the country exported 2 million barrels of oil every two months from oil fields in the southeastern province of Hadramout, plus 600,000 barrels from the southern province of Shabwa.

The Dhaba oil terminal in Hadramout province handles most of the country’s oil exports to international markets.


UAE provides aid to Somali people hit by drought

UAE provides aid to Somali people hit by drought
Updated 04 October 2022

UAE provides aid to Somali people hit by drought

UAE provides aid to Somali people hit by drought
  • Relief efforts continue to pour in to meet the needs of more than 2.5 million
  • The aid is a collaborative effort between UAE relief agencies and the Somali Disaster Management Authority

ABU DHABI: A ship carrying nearly 1,000 tons of aid to Somali people hit by drought is the latest contribution of the UAE to the relief effort.
The ship, which docked in Mogadishu last month, will distribute its cargo to help meet the needs of more than 2.5 million people, reported Emirates News Agency (WAM).
The aid effort is part of a coordinated project with the Emirates Red Crescent Authority, the Zayed Charitable and Humanitarian Foundation and the Khalifa Bin Zayed Al-Nahyan Foundation for Humanitarian Works.
The distribution has been expanded in the past week to camps in the most badly hit areas, including Mogadishu and in the Mahas and Mataban areas of Hiran governorate in the Hirshabelle region.
The aid is a collaborative effort between UAE relief agencies and the Somali Disaster Management Authority.
The drought facing Somalia is the worst in decades. The UN World Meteorological Organization has predicted the country will face a fifth successive failed rainy season.
More than 7 million Somalis face humanitarian issues and are in need of food, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
 


Savers storm Lebanese banks to demand their money

Savers storm Lebanese banks to demand their money
Updated 04 October 2022

Savers storm Lebanese banks to demand their money

Savers storm Lebanese banks to demand their money
  • Retired diplomat entered the IBL branch in Hazmieh and refused to leave until he was given his savings
  • A retired security officer entered BLC Bank in Bekaa and demanded that $4,300 be transferred to his son in Ukraine

BEIRUT: A former police officer brandishing a weapon and a retired ambassador were among savers who stormed banks in Lebanon after they partially reopened following a week’s closure after earlier raids.
Georges Habib Siam, 76, the honorary consul general of Ireland and former protocol director at Lebanon’s Foreign Ministry, entered the IBL branch in Hazmieh, Mount Lebanon, and refused to leave until he was given his savings.
Ali Deeb Al-Sahli, a retired member of the Internal Security Forces, entered the Chtaura branch of the BLC Bank in the Bekaa, and demanded that $4,300 be transferred to his son in Ukraine, who was evicted from his house and expelled from university due to a lack of money.
A video shared on social media showed other savers cheering Al-Sahli, before bank employees are seen taking his weapon, before detaining and then handing him over to security forces. Another video showed Al-Sahli saying he would sell his kidney for money.
Ali Hassan Hodroj, another saver, demanded that staff in the Byblos Bank branch in Tire, southern Lebanon, hand over his savings of around $44,000. He was able to recover some money, which he handed over to another protester outside before surrendering himself to police.
Meanwhile, dozens of employees of the Kadisha Electricity Co. stormed the FNB’s Tripoli branch, demanding their full salaries and allowances after the bank deducted 3 percent.
The latest attempts by Lebanese to get their money came two weeks after hold-ups at seven branches, which led to banks closing for a week in protest.
The Lebanese financial system has been in turmoil since 2020, with the Lebanese pound losing most of its value. The country’s banks have restricted depositor withdrawals from their dollar accounts and any money taken out in local currency has been subject to exchange rates that have rendered it almost worthless. Meanwhile, authorities have yet to enact a recovery plan.
Hassan Moghnieh, the head of Lebanon’s Depositors Association, told Arab News: “The situation is going to get worse as long as there is no radical solution to the issue of withholding deposits.
“Ignoring this will lead to more chaos, despite all the measures taken, since all people have deposits in banks.”
Assad Khoury, the head of the Syndicate of Bank Employees in Lebanon, said: “Things will not be resolved by storming banks. A comprehensive solution is required. The responsibility lies primarily with the political authority, which is still trying to deny its responsibilities.”
The Association of Banks in Lebanon said that it had no control over financial or monetary policies, and its members were not the decision-makers.
In a statement, it said: “The state withdrew $62.6 billion from the central bank. These sums were spent on maintaining subsidies, stabilizing the exchange rate, high interests, electricity, the state’s import needs, and others.
“When the crisis began, the central bank had reserves of about $33 billion. Today, reserves have fallen to about $10 billion.
“When banks tried to speak up in an effort to change the situation, the head of the ABL was prosecuted.
“If the situation continues, the International Monetary Fund will stop negotiating with Lebanon, the central bank’s reserves will be depleted, and the state will be unable to secure any purchases from abroad.
“Lebanon would thus be unable to secure the minimum necessities of living, such as electricity, water, medicine, telecommunications, etc., and hope of recovering deposits would fade, and the local currency would depreciate even further,” the association statement added.