A short distance away from where the Islamic State is trying to recreate the 7th Century in all of its barbaric horror, the United Arab Emirates is launching a purely 21st Century enterprise. The UAE, according to a Tuesday story on CBS, is starting its own space agency. The new UAE Space Agency will integrate existing efforts that include communication satellites and commercial space ventures, such as an investment in Virgin Galactic. The new space agency will promote space as an integral part of business, science, and education within the Gulf nation. It also hopes to launch a probe to Mars, the first for an Arab, Muslim country.
The UAR Mars probe, due to launch in 2020 for a 2021 arrival, is as much about prestige as it is about science and engineering. It is no secret that the Muslim world has lagged behind in the sciences since its heyday a thousand years ago when Baghdad and Cordoba, in modern Spain, were centers of learning when Europe was relatively backward. The UAE space effort means to change that.
The UAE, in many ways, is the perfect Muslim country to attempt to become a space faring power. It is oil rich and, therefore, has the resources to finance a space effort. While the UAE is a federation of absolute monarchies that hardly has a pristine human rights record, it is a far more moderate country than, say, Saudi Arabia and Iran. It practices a degree of religious toleration that is unique in the Middle East outside of Israel.
The UAE space agency came in for some praise from Farouk El Baz, the Egyptian born scientist who helped to train the Apollo astronauts.
“Ex- NASA scientist and Apollo missions team member Dr. Farouk El Baz said: ‘I would like to congratulate all citizens of the UAE for what has been achieved by this young nation in less than half a century.
“’Many people may not know that the founder of the UAE, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, cared greatly about space and the scientific results achieved from the Apollo trips.’
“El Baz highlighted that he first met the late Sheikh Zayed in June 1974 following the end of the Apollo lunar exploration mission. He went on to meet Sheikh Zayed two more times along with astronauts from the Apollo missions to explain their missions.
“He added: ‘UAE leaders have continued to be interested in identifying the secrets of the universe through space expeditions. The most important thing that becomes clear from all of the above is that the UAE intends to realise the hopes of Arabs everywhere.’”