More than 1.5 billion people have been closely following the journey of the Arab world’s first interplanetary mission.
“Beyond the sky is where our dreams start.” That is what His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, said when the UAE’s trailblazing Hope probe crossed the one million-kilometre mark in its journey to Mars last week.
More than 1.5 billion people have been closely following the journey of the Arab world’s first interplanetary mission, which made history when it launched on July 20. And they include the UAE’s own aspiring space pioneers, who are celebrating the massive boost that the Mars mission has given STEM education.
Science is cool: Teen who launched experiment to space
Teenage Emirati space prodigy Alia Ahmed Al Mansoori first made headlines in 2017 when she won the Genes in Space UAE competition. Her experiment to study how exposure to space affects the health of live organisms at the cellular level was launched into space from NASA’s Kennedy Space Centre that year. It was tested by astronauts on the International Space Station.
The 18-year-old is now looking to join the University of Edinburgh in the hopes of pursuing a career in biological research. For Alia, the “ultimate dream” is to go to Mars someday. The launch of the historic Hope probe reiterated two messages for her: Nothing is impossible and that science is indeed a “cool” field.
“The Hope probe launch is something I … am really proud of,” she said. “When I was young, we didn’t have these (achievements in space). I know if we did, it would’ve increased my passion for this subject even more. That is going to be one of the outcomes of the Emirates Mars Mission: Young kids will be excited to take up science – not just space sciences – in the future, and that’s always a plus.”
This is first of many: Emirati who wants X-ray the black holes
Ahlam Al Qasim is an Emirati astrophysics PhD student at UCL’s Mullard Space Science Laboratory in the UK. Currently, she’s working on developing a new method to construct X-ray luminosity functions of supermassive black holes called Active Galactic Nuclei (AGN).
One of her earliest experiences of encountering STEM is sneaking into her father’s library as a child to read his many encyclopaedias. “I would spend hours there and lose sense of time,” she said. “My favourite ones were, unsurprisingly, the astronomy volumes. I think that’s where my love for space started – with reading.”
Two years ago, Ahlam and three other female Emirati batchmates at NYUAD won a Minisatellite competition conducted by the UAE Space Agency. They were awarded the winning science payload to be integrated into a 3U Cubesat, which gave them the chance to launch the mission to space.
She hopes the UAE’s Mars mission will be the “first of hopefully many science missions to come”. For her, personally, it’s got her excited at the thought of what the future might hold. “I hope to live to see the day we land the first human on Mars, see the hyperloop come to life, or even discover dark matter! My current STEM mission involves encouraging youth in the UAE to pursue the natural sciences, despite the social pressures to go for the ‘safer’ options.”
Research engineer wants to evaluate data Hope gets
Aerospace research engineer Sahith Reddy Madara is actively looking to work on the data evaluation of the Hope probe in 2021 at the Sharjah Academy for Astronomy, Space Sciences, and Technology (SAASST), where he currently works.
He found the Hope probe launch especially inspirational for its potential to motivate youth across the Arab world to pursue space science degrees in the future. “Space has the potential to make life on earth so much better and I’m excited to see where things go,” he said.
For his part, the youngster – who is UAE’s National Point of Contact for Space Generation Advisory Council – has his sights set on making aerospace more sustainable, cleaner and greener. “I intend to delve into sustainability-related R&D to develop spacecraft structures for the removal of space debris. I also wish to pursue a PhD to gain the highly technical knowledge involving complex areas of study about space systems operating from within the Earth’s atmosphere to in-depth space explorations.”
Sahith, who has had 28 research papers published in international journals so far, is keen to change the perception of the space industry. “When people think of space, they think of astronauts on the moon, rockets and spaceships. But even if you’re a lawyer, investor, journalist, computer programmer, doctor or project manager, there is a place in space for you.”
Robot coder excited about what launch means for students
Indian expat Roshan Rajesh Bhatkar’s anticipation with regard to the Hope probe is primarily to do with all the data that will be made available to universities. “That is a huge deal for students. There is so little we understand about life beyond earth, so the opportunity to have access to the data from the probe is very exciting.”
Roshan, who recently graduated from Amity University with a degree in aerospace engineering, is currently looking forward to represent the UAE in the final round of the Kibo Robot Programming Challenge. The competition required students to develop coding for robots onboard the International Space Station and Roshan’s team of six won first place.
Although Covid-19 has put a dampener on their plans to travel to Japan for the final round, it hasn’t diminished his desire to channel Elon Musk in the field of space. “Elon Musk thinks beyond what regular folks do. I too want to someday build something that, despite naysayers, will be our way of life in the future,” he said. “I’m also hopeful that the Emirates Mars Mission will create more opportunities for students to pursue those dreams.”
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