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The United Arab Emirates is a country often known for pushing the creative boundaries in renewable energy, technology, and construction. Now, the country has taken its innovative approach to outer space, announcing a comprehensive strategy for investing in the space sector on October 6 during World Space Week (WSW). The annual holiday is observed around the world and runs from October 4 through October 10.

On October 6, the 69th annual International Astronautical Congress (IAC) was attended by a delegation from the UAE’s Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC) and the Space Agency. Various space projects were presented, and a milestone agreement was signed between the Space Agency and NASA. The agreement will allow UAE astronauts to train at NASA facilities, launch into space on U.S. commercial spacecraft, and utilize the International Space Station (ISS). It also allows the UAE Space Agency to contribute to lunar exploration.

The UAE’s increased involvement in space exploration is a positive one. After the UAE proposed a Pan-Arab Space Agency in 2008, the movement gained little traction. In its place, the country founded the Space Agency in 2014 by presidential decree.  Adopting a comprehensive approach, the UAE engages and includes neighbors, universities, local and international institutes, and companies in its space plans. Undoubtedly, its efforts will help ensure Arab-majority countries can carve out their own space in the Western-dominated space exploration field.

In September, the names of the first two Emirati astronauts were released – Hazza Al Mansouri Sultan Al Nayadi – both of whom will fly to the ISS and back in April of next year. The MBRSC and UAE Space Agency will help facilitate their training.

The country also has more ambitious projects in the works. By 2021, the UAE plans to launch a space probe named Amal (“Hope” in Arabic) to orbit Mars. The MBRSC announced the launch of the Mars Science City Project in September of last year. Costing $140 million USD, a Mars-imitation city will be created in the UAE to simulate and conduct research related to human life in a Martian landscape.

Investment in space technology is one way Gulf countries can gradually shift their economies away from heavy reliance on oil. As the UAE continues to fortify lucrative partnerships with startup technology companies, the country is making sure its youth are prepared for the future as well. The country is emphasizing subjects such as engineering, science, mathematics, and space in its restructured curricula. Its universities are developing new space science and technology tracks for students.

UAE students are still performing below the international average in STEM subjects according to an assessment from a 2015 report from Trends in International Mathematics and Science Studies (TIMSS). Still, the Ministry of Education is confident that, as a result of curricular and other reforms, the country will rank among the top 15 nations in the next TIMSS assessment, which is slated for 2019. If the UAE’s support for science and technology continues, the country will certainly be well positioned to become a pioneer in the space exploration field soon.

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