By Tayiba Ahmed
Last year, the UAE Government unveiled its plan to send an unmanned probe to Mars to study the atmosphere of the Red Planet, in celebration of the UAE’s 50th national day. It plans to launch the space probe in 2020, so that it arrives to Mars in 2021, just in time for the anniversary. The space probe will be the first Arab probe, and has been named Al Amal or “Hope.” Three American University of Sharjah faculty members, namely Dr. Tariq Majeed, Associate Professor of Physics, Randa As’ad, Assistant Professor of Physics and Dr. Nidhal Guessoum, Professor of Physics and Astronomy, all from the Department of Physics of the AUS College of Arts and Sciences, are part of the science team involved in the project.
According to Dr. Guessoum, the Emirates Mars Mission is “a hugely positive and stunning announcement and initiative.” He also wrote an article about it a couple weeks after the announcement was made, entitled “The Real Reason behind the UAE Mars Mission.” The science team that Dr. Guessoum is a part of is an international team, with at least a dozen members from the United States and elsewhere, and at least a dozen from inside the UAE, including the AUS professors. The science team will tackle questions such as how to start building the instruments required for the project, how to have them function on or around Mars, how to collect and analyze the data, and how to eventually answer the questions the team has posed for themselves.
The Emirates Mars Mission has garnered tremendous excitement and enthusiasm from the science community in the UAE, from the students and from the youngsters, and according to Dr. Guessoum, having youngsters involved is the project’s major achievement. “The mission’s greatest achievement is not going to be actually getting to Mars, or that the UAE will be the first Arab-Muslim nation to attempt such a feat. The major achievement is that it is going to galvanize and propel a young generation of Emiratis and Arabs who are going to really understand that literally the sky is the limit”, said Dr. Guessoum.
Students have already been responding positively and enthusiastically to the initiative. The second Emirates Mars Mission workshop, organized by Mohammad bin Rashid Space Center, (MBRSC) was held in Dubai earlier this month and students were invited to participate with ideas and proposals in the Explore Mars Poster Competition. Some of Dr. Guessoum’s students participated in the competition, while he delivered one of the lectures at the workshop.
In April this year, American University of Sharjah signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre to develop Emirati human resources qualified to work in the fields of space science and technology, and consequently developing the space technology sector in the UAE. The center has been tapping in the high quality of graduates from American University of Sharjah to key positions at the Center. Prominent AUS alumni holding top positions at the Center includes Sara Al Amiri who is the Emirates Mars Mission Science Team Leader at the MBRSC. In February, Al Amiri, holds a Bachelor of Science in Computer Engineering degree and a Master of Science in Computer Engineering degree from the AUS College of Engineering, was appointed by His Highness Sheikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai to become the Chairperson of the UAE Council of Scientists.
“I have no doubt that even after the first two years, and possibly the next two years, that it will not be the end of UAE’s space program. On the contrary, there is now a UAE Space Agency and there are all kinds of projects being planned. I think the UAE is going to be a major player in space in the next 10-20 years and beyond, and I am extremely optimistic and hopeful for the generation of Emiratis and Arabs that will come now and that will see that space is theirs to invest in. So good luck to everyone and I’m looking forward to the future”, said Dr. Guessoum.
Tayiba Ahmed is a student at American University of Sharjah.
Visit www.aus.edu for more information about American University of Sharjah