WASHINGTON, D.C.—Earlier this year, the United Arab Emirates’ grabbed the world’s attention when Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum announced a plan to establish a colony on Mars by 2117. Officials have been relatively mum about the details of the “Mars 2117 Project”—but today, a person helping to lead the endeavor discussed how young Arab people will lead the mission.
“In the UAE...we believe that we are on the cusp of a new age of exploration,” Saeed Al Gergawi, Program Director of the Mars 2117 program at the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC), told an audience of space enthusiasts and reporters today at the Humans to Mars summit in Washington, D.C. “[There’s] a new space race that affects literally every human on Earth.”
In a panel of representatives from the European Space Agency, NASA and more, Al Gergawi explained the UAE’s ambitions, including its plans to collaborate with other commercial and national entities to build the colony. While it’s unclear exactly how these collaborative efforts will proceed, it’s likely NASA will be involved to some degree. In June 2016, the agency announced that it would be collaborating with the UAE on space endeavors, specifically noting their mutual interest in Mars.
“The United Arab Emirates and the United States of America are long-standing allies and have deep economic, cultural and diplomatic ties,” UAE Space Agency Chairman Dr. Khalifa Al Romaithi said at the time. “We at the UAE Space Agency genuinely welcome the opportunity to collaborate and work with the USA and NASA in the fields of aeronautics, space science, and the peaceful exploration of outer space toward the common goal of fostering the well-being of humankind.
According to early mockups, the UAE colony will involve some pretty advanced infrastructure, though more formalized models have not yet been made public. As Al Gergawi emphasized today, a big focus of the Mars 2117 program right now is getting young people in the Middle East excited about science and interplanetary exploration, as a way to “uplift [their] region.”
“In the UAE, we live in a rough neighborhood,” Al Gergawi said. “Our neighborhood has over 100 million youth, with over 35 percent unemployment,” referring to the broader geographic region of the Middle East.
“We want to enable the youth to play an active role in advancing the global efforts toward enhancing the Red Planet and other planetary bodies,” he told the crowd. Al Gergawi mentioned that there will be educational efforts to motivate young people to get involved in space, but did offer specifics.
Before—or if—the UAE ever gets people to Mars, it plans to embark on the first Arab mission to Mars. In 2020, it will launch a probe, called “Hope,” to the Red Planet, in order to analyze Mars’ atmosphere. This information will undoubtedly be useful to Al Gergawi and his team as they work to make their grandiose vision a reality.