quotes We Need Our Space

30 May 2023
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Updated 08 July 2023

We Need Our Space

Space has that special ability to bring the world together. No matter who you are, you cannot help but feel a sense of happiness and pride when you see the comradery between astronauts from different nations greeting each other aboard the International Space Station.

Nations such as Saudi Arabia and the UAE have taken steps to lead the Muslim and Arab world into space and are standing as partners among long-established space nations. Saudi Arabia and the UAE’s achievements and ambitions in space put them in the forefront, which only a handful of countries around the world can match.  It is admirable that in such a short span of time, we are witnessing a Saudi and Emirati meeting in outer space.

The Saudi Space Commission and its CEO, Dr. Mohammed bin Saud Al-Tamimi, have been furthering the Kingdom’s space by taking significant strides and developing strategic partnerships around the world to align with the Saudi Vision 2030.

With Saudi Arabia’s historic achievement of launching two astronauts in space, it is important to know that such achievements offer Saudi Arabia, the Gulf Cooperation Council countries and the world so much more.

The Saudi astronauts inspire us, and our youth, showing that anything is possible if one works hard and perseveres to achieve their goals.  Prince Sultan bin Salman, Ali Alqarni, Rayyanah Barnawi, and backup astronauts Mariam Fardous and Ali Al-Ghamdi had all worked very hard and had very accomplished careers even prior to going to space.

Space medicine, health & research

Areas in which I am often asked to lead, educate and inspire others are space medicine, health, innovation and research. What we learn in space aids healthcare on Earth, including the ability to play a crucial role for health, public and population health in Saudi Arabia and in the GCC.

The ability to conduct research in space offers a lot to healthcare as it enables us to know more about our own health, physiology and the effects of exposure to extreme environments.

It also lets us observe the impact on health of not having factors that we have taken for granted on Earth, for example, gravity and regular sleep patterns

Space medicine also has to address many challenges involving providing care for astronauts over a large distance and with limited resources. 

To cater to these challenges, the space sector has had to think creatively with portable medical devices and enhanced technology (termed ‘space spinoffs’) that not only support astronauts but also can help Earth-based healthcare, including in Saudi Arabia. 

Modern telemedicine, which we commonly use for remote locations and recently was commonly used during the COVID-19 pandemic, has had its origins in space exploration.

For long-duration missions such as going to the Moon and eventually Mars, the world of space medicine and researchers have to think even more creatively. 

One particular area of increasing interest is exploring artificial intelligence and machine learning to offer greater autonomy in managing health by astronauts. 

This also offers the ability to continuously monitor and support well-being. Such innovative technology and approaches to managing health are relevant and beneficial to healthcare on Earth and in line with a number of healthcare goals noted in Vision 2030 including related to NEOM and the Line's vision to revolutionize the future of healthcare.

Population health and the environment

Space also can benefit and support population health and public health. 

I’ve previously published in renowned journals, including Nature Medicine that highlighted Space's role in infectious diseases and managing pandemics; And Lancet Planetary Health on Space's role in monitoring the Environment, Pollutants and Environmental Health.

The evidence of climate change has been clearly documented using satellites, and many are also able to monitor pollutants such as carbon dioxide, methane, carbon monoxide, ozone, sulphur dioxide, PM2.5 and PM10, all of which can harm our health.

Space also plays an important role in monitoring sea levels, pollution and focusing on the UN’s sustainable development goal 14 (Life under water): such as monitoring temperature, sea levels, fisheries, algae and marine resources.

Thus, space again could support a number of initiatives in the Kingdom, including Vision 2030’s Red Sea megaproject.

Invest in space medicine, health and education

Whenever one thinks about careers in space, often the focus goes on becoming astronauts, or engineers for satellites and communications, as not many are aware of the crucial role health has in space exploration and what space can offer healthcare and the environment on Earth. It is essential to highlight and educate others on the benefit of space medicine and health, and the related education and research involved (which also compliment careers involving interdisciplinary approaches in space and STEM)

Overall, space technology has a lot to offer to medicine, healthcare and our lives as a whole. In keeping with the Kingdom’s continued advancements in the space sector, Vision 2030 and to also be among the future leaders of space, it would be beneficial to invest and support the health side of space, such as increasing education and awareness of space medicine, space health and research, and explore what space can offer in healthcare and the environment in Saudi Arabia, the GCC and Earth as a whole.

• Dr. Farhan M. Asrar is an internationally recognized award-winning leader, physician, educator, academic, researcher and expert in space medicine & health, public health and family medicine.