WASHINGTON, DC — Earlier this year, the United Arab Emirates’ grabbed the world’s attention when Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum announced a plan to establish a colony on Mars by 2117. Officials have been relatively mum about the details of the “Mars 2117 Project” — but yesterday, a person helping to lead the endeavour discussed how young Arab people will lead the mission.
Image: Screen Shot via YouTube/Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Center
“In the UAE… we believe that we are on the cusp of a new age of exploration,” Saeed Al Gergawi, Program Director of the Mars 2117 program at the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC), told an audience of space enthusiasts and reporters yesterday at the Humans to Mars summit in Washington, DC. “[There’s] a new space race that affects literally every human on Earth.”
We aspire in the coming century to develop science, technology and our youth's passion for knowledge. This project is driven by that vision. pic.twitter.com/4QibJjtiM2— HH Sheikh Mohammed (@HHShkMohd) February 14, 2017
In a panel of representatives from organisations including the European Space Agency and NASA, Al Gergawi explained the UAE’s ambitions, including its plans to collaborate with other commercial and national entities to build the colony. While it’s unclear exactly how these collaborative efforts will proceed, it’s likely NASA will be involved to some degree. In June 2016, the agency announced that it would be collaborating with the UAE on space endeavours, specifically noting their mutual interest in Mars.
“The United Arab Emirates and the United States of America are long-standing allies and have deep economic, cultural and diplomatic ties,” UAE Space Agency Chairman Dr Khalifa Al Romaithi said at the time. “We at the UAE Space Agency genuinely welcome the opportunity to collaborate and work with the USA and NASA in the fields of aeronautics, space science, and the peaceful exploration of outer space toward the common goal of fostering the well-being of humankind.
According to early mockups, the UAE colony will involve some pretty advanced infrastructure, though more formalised models have not yet been made public. As Al Gergawi emphasised, a big focus of the Mars 2117 program right now is getting young people in the Middle East excited about science and interplanetary exploration, as a way to “uplift [their] region”.
“In the UAE, we live in a rough neighbourhood,” Al Gergawi said. “Our neighbourhood has over 100 million youth, with over 35 per cent unemployment,” referring to the broader geographic region of the Middle East.
“We want to enable the youth to play an active role in advancing the global efforts toward enhancing the Red Planet and other planetary bodies,” he told the crowd. Al Gergawi mentioned that there will be educational efforts to motivate young people to get involved in space, but didn’t offer specifics.
The "Mars 2117" project will develop an Emirati and international team of scientists to push the human exploration of Mars in years to come. pic.twitter.com/5ujxvyC8As— HH Sheikh Mohammed (@HHShkMohd) February 14, 2017
Before — or if — the UAE ever gets people to Mars, it plans to embark on the first Arab mission to Mars. In 2020, it will launch a probe, called “Hope”, to the Red Planet, in order to analyse Mars’ atmosphere. This information will undoubtedly be useful to Al Gergawi and his team as they work to make their grandiose vision a reality.