A little over two years ago, a lone vehicle made a landing on a surface of another world and by doing so sent a message to ours.
The vehicle was Nasa’s Curiosity rover, the world was Mars and the message was that a new space race had begun.
While it may be a less theatrical race than the one to the moon, the celestial ambition is certainly greater this time around. After all, there are a greater number of participants – the UAE being one of them.
The Emirates Mars Mission, supervised by the UAE Space Agency and developed by the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre in support of international partners, is set to arrive on the Red Planet in 2021.
And as the UAE’s space industry grows up around this ambition, the Space Agency is working on ensuring that potential challenges are dealt with strategically.
A particular area of focus is bridging gaps between the sector’s emerging infrastructure and the relatively limited local human capital available.
The agency is working on recruiting, developing and retaining Emirati professionals over the next few years.
“These employees will then be further supported with an internal Emiratisation training plan,” according to a Space Agency spokesman.
The agency has also launched multiple education and training initiatives to generate excitement about space at the grass roots level.
It has been working with the Ministry of Education in reviewing the current curriculums in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (Stem) education.
“An advanced space industry is predicated upon significant educational progress,” the spokesman said.
In its efforts to help develop an indigenous talent pipeline of students and professionals, the agency also intends to provide financial support for several local university students.
The agency is also working with the Ministry of Presidential Affairs and the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority to launch criteria-based scholarship programmes for students who want to pursue graduate and post-graduate studies in space sciences.
“I would love to be short-listed for a government-supported scholarship scheme,” said Mohammed Al Dhaheri, a 17-year- old Edexcel student at Al Yasmina Academy, Abu Dhabi, and hopes to pursue his bachelor’s in Japan.
The agency has also collaborated with Airbus, Boeing and Lockheed Martin to launch programmes that actively engage students towards education not just about space but Stem subjects in general. The UAE Space Agency and The National this year launched the Genes in Space contest inviting school-age students to design experiments that will solve real-life space exploration problems through DNA analysis.
“I believe the government is highly supportive of youth who wish to pursue space sciences or just any science,” said 19-year-old Sara Al Qubaisi, currently enrolled in the University of Edinburgh’s School of Geosciences.
Ms Al Qubaisi interned for the Centre for Space Science at New York University Abu Dhabi last summer.
A Dh30 million observatory, to be built on the summit of Jais Mountain in Ras Al Khaimah, will give willing individuals and universities the capacity to directly contribute to space research.