Sheikh Saud Puts the Spotlight on the UAE Space Program

September 25, 2019, will forever be remembered by the good people of the United Arab Emirates as the day when one of their own entered the International Space Station. Emirati astronaut Hazzaa al-Mansoori made history after he launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome, located in the former Soviet Republic of Kazakhstan, thus beginning an eight-day mission aboard the ISS. 

Two days after al-Mansoori successfully docked and entered the ISS, the Sheikh Saud visionary leader of Ras Al Khaimah attended a graduation ceremony at the RAK Medical and Health Sciences University, where he spoke about the progress that his Emirate has made in terms of scientific achievement.

Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi took the opportunity to remind the 165 RAKMHSU graduates about the space mission in which al-Mansoori participated, which included two fellow crew members, cosmonaut Oleg Skripochka from Russia and Jessica Meir from the United States. It so happened that part of al-Mansoori’s space mission included osteology research, a medical discipline that is part of the curriculum at RAKMHSU. Specifically, al-Mansoori and Oleg Skripochka conducted measurements related to an experiment that seeks to expand current knowledge of spaceflight’s effect on the human body.

The images shared by al-Mansoori from the ISS showed him conducting an experiment assigned by Roscosmos, the Russian space agency, for the purpose of studying how microgravity conditions impact bone density. Needless to say, the images were widely distributed on social media, and they have been a source of pride among people of the UAE. Altogether, al-Mansoori will complete more than a dozen experiments in collaboration with NASA as well as the space agencies of the European Union and Japan. Al-Mansoori is not a health scientist; he is a fighter jet pilot whose training career took him to the Arizona deserts to specialize on the F-16; however, it was his military and aeronautic background that helped him pass the tests and be selected from thousands of candidates who expressed interest in the UAE Space Program.

Space is Just One Focus of the UAE’s Scientific Ambitions

For His Highness Sheikh Saud, the willingness of al-Mansoori to train not only as an astronaut but also as a medical research technician is part of the culmination of what the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, ruler of Abu Dhabi, envisioned when he inaugurated the UAE Space Program, which in 2018 launched its first satellite, KhalifaSat, built at the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre in Dubai. As the Ruler of Ras Al Khaimah, the Sheikh has made it clear that he would like to see the UAE become a center for science, and this includes research, applied technology, and international collaboration.

In recent decades, the UAE has sought to make the most out of the vast petroleum reserves it enjoys; to this effect, Abu Dhabi and Dubai have emerged as global centers for business development and innovation, but Ras Al Khaimah does not have the geologic advantage that can be translated into oil extraction. His Highness trusted the advice of exploration experts who long ago determined that oil reservoirs could not be found in Ras Al Khaimah. While there is a chance that natural gas could be extracted at some areas of RAK, Sheikh Saud did not insist upon further exploration; instead, he has focused development efforts in the areas of ceramics, materials research, tourism, agriculture, international business, and education.

While space research is not currently in the RAKMHSU curriculum, the university hopes that some graduates will be interested in contributing their knowledge to the UAE Space Program. A significant number of the experiments conducted aboard the ISS on a daily basis focus on medical research and biotechnology.

It should be noted that the UAE Space Program is making progress on the Hope Mars Mission, which involves a space probe that will be sent to the Red Planet next year. Space colonization and terraforming are no longer limited to science fiction; the ongoing NASA efforts to return to the Moon and launch a future manned mission to Mars are part of the new reality of space exploration, but this will require extensive medical research. His Highness hopes that RAKMHSU graduates will decide to join the UAE Space Program and lift the profile of this higher learning institution.