Orbiting roughly 400 kilometers above our heads is perhaps one of the greatest symbols of international cooperation and collaboration of our time. I am speaking of course of the International Space Station, built by 15 different countries representing the breath of the political and economic spectrum and having thus far welcomed 230 individuals from 18 different nations. This long-term experiment has brought together former competitors and united individuals, agencies and institutions from around the world in a quest to discover the unknown, to better understand the world we live in.
This higher calling to advance our collective understanding is a powerful motivator for cooperation and collaboration — one that we aspire to use to bring together space agencies and scientific institutions across the Middle East as we inspire the next generation of Arab space pioneers. We aim to foster a collaborative environment with an open exchange of information, ideas, and expertise that will allow the Arab world to better contribute to our understanding of the universe and the discovery of solutions to humanity’s greatest challenges.
For this reason, we have sought to bring together representatives from the region’s space sector and scientific institutions to discuss avenues for cooperation in space since the UAE Space Agency was founded. However, despite an almost universal desire for collaboration, establishing the proper framework is challenging, given the wide range of capabilities and areas of expertise held by Arab nations. Some of our neighbors have advanced space programs and decades of experience, while others are currently in the process of developing national space strategies and institutions.
We remain undaunted, and earlier this month supported the organization of another round of meetings and discussions between regional space leaders at the Global Aerospace Summit 2018. Held in Abu Dhabi and bringing together the world’s foremost leaders in space and aerospace, the Summit served as an ideal platform to both discuss Arab cooperation in space as well as inspire the next generation of space pioneers.
On the second day of the three-day Summit, Arab space leaders came together for a panel discussion on Space and the Arab World, in which they discussed their nation’s various objectives, capabilities, and plans for the future. This panel was promptly followed by a closed-door Arab Space Agency Leaders Meeting in which we identified areas of cooperation and sought to begin working on a wider platform and framework for regional collaboration.
These meetings represent the regional potential and opportunities that lie ahead for the Arab world’s space sector and industry. Together with our own ambitious space program — including the UAE Astronaut Program, the Mars Hope Probe launch in 2020, the opening of Mars Scientific City in 2021, and our long-term plan to establish a settlement on Mars by 2117 — we are inspiring a new generation of Arab space scientists and scholars. In the context of regional instability and uncertainty, we believe that our emerging regional space sector collaboration will provide hope, meaning and opportunity for the next generation.
I firmly believe these are some of the greatest gifts we can give the next generation and am committed to helping the UAE and its neighbors realize their dreams of space exploration and scientific discovery.
HE Dr. Eng. Mohammed Nasser Al Ahbabi is Director General of the UAE Space Agency.