UAE Space Program eyes Mars mission in 2021, colonization in 2117

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A general view of Dubai and the world's tallest tower, the Burj Khalifa (C), December 9, 2015. REUTERS/Karim Sahib/Pool

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has unveiled its lofty aspirations for space exploration, which includes plans to launch its first mission to Mars by 2021 and to colonize the planet in 99 years.

The Middle Eastern nation, which seeks to move away from oil and gas and diversify its industries, has already invested 20 billion dirhams, equivalent to $5.4 billion, in its space program, which seeks to develop satellites and launch missions.

The UAE plans to launch its first satellite into space by the end of 2018. Dubbed KhalifaSat, the satellite was built in Dubai and the first one to be built by Arab engineers. The satellite was recently flown to Korea to undergo its final phase of testing.

The UAE has launched satellites back in 2009 and 2013, but they were created and developed by their South Korean partners. According to Salem Humaid Al Marri, the assistant director general for science and technology at the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Center, it was hard back then to recruit local engineers for space projects.

However, since the country’s space program has blossomed in the past few years, Al Marri said it is now easier to get Arab engineers to work on the projects. All of the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Center’s 200 employees are UAE citizens.

In line with its ambition to launch people into Mars, the UAE also launched its own astronaut program three months ago. The program was well-received by citizens and received more than 3,000 applications. Around 65 percent of the applications came from holders of a STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) degree, while 21 percent are pilots. Also of note is that 25 percent of the applicants were women.

Dubai is also planning to build a Mars Science City that will simulate mankind’s future colonization of Mars. The project, which costs 500 million dirhams, will include laboratories for food, energy, water, and agricultural testing.