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Emirati students will attend US universities’ space programmes

ABU DHABI // The Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre will send students to American universities this summer as part of the UAE’s Mars Mission Hope.

They will undergo an intensive programme in space sciences at the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of Colorado Boulder that will help them along a career path as Emirati scientists and engineers.

“We don’t have a proper career path for scientists,” said Omran Sharaf, the centre’s project manager of the Emirates Mars mission, at the second day of the Global Space and Satellite Forum in Abu Dhabi on Wednesday.

“Anyone in physics or chemistry ends up teaching or working in a laboratory.”

He added that “through this mission, they can still focus on mathematics and chemistry and contribute significantly to the development of the nation.”

He said he hoped more students would be sent abroad.

“The mission will establish different activities in the UAE that will create knowledge to use in different sectors, like better understanding the Earth’s atmosphere or in health care by developing biomedical equipment or to detect certain types of diseases,” Mr Sharaf said.

“This will create new opportunities for UAE scientists and engineers to hopefully get into the private sector and start businesses to support our activities. So, instead of hiring engineers, we can subcontract Emirati engineers and it will create a sustainable strong science and technology sector that has a direct contribution to our economy,” he said.

Creating that sector in the UAE, building local scientific capabilities and supporting a knowledge-based economy in the country is a significant objective of the mission.

“To have continuous growth, we need to have an established science and technology sector within the UAE,” Mr Sharaf said. “The Government identified this gap in the science and technology sector through establishing the UAE Space Agency and the centre which will help support that.”

The goal will also be to restore the Arab region as a major knowledge centre, as it once was in the past.

“The UAE thought it would be a first step to restart that,” he added. “Getting to Mars isn’t the main objective, it’s a means to a bigger objective. The region was very active a long time ago in giving to humanity through knowledge, and the Mars mission is one of these initiatives.

“Many things are happening within the region currently so this mission is a mission of hope to the region and the youth within the region that there are other options available and you can be a better contributor to the world and humanity.”

Dr Mike Mcgrath, director of engineering at the University of Colorado Boulder, said the UAE mission was gaining world attention.

“Over the course of coming here, I experienced something quite different than the US which is an optimism, an attitude and an approach that recognises the difficulty of space but still looks forward to the challenge,” he said. “One of the biggest differences is working with the people involved and the focus and motivation of the people. It’s the level of teamwork that’s been possible that’s different to what we experienced in the US and we have not worked on anything like this before.”

James Crocker, vice president and general manager of Space Systems Company International at Lockheed Martin, said passion among young engineers was crucial.

“It’s more than just the ability to do the maths right,” he said. “Planetary and space exploration are the most complicated, difficult and challenging things that humans have attempted to do. But at the end of the day, when you’re successful, you change the way we think of the universe, it will change the way people think of you and what you think of yourself and that’s what exploration is really about.”

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(via The National)