MAKKAH: The UAE’s inaugural spacecraft, the Hope Probe, entered orbit round Mars last week and the country wants future generations in the Arab world to continue to have an impact on space exploration.
It all starts with the Arab Space Pioneers Program, which is an intensive science training program launched in July by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum, the UAE vice president and ruler of Dubai. The program comes on the heels of the Hope Probe mission and aims to build Arab expertise in space science and technologies, while also empowering the region’s talents.
Within two weeks of its launch, the program received 37,000 applications from talented researchers and inventors from Egypt, Iraq, Algeria, Morocco, the UAE, Jordan, Palestine, Syria, Tunisia, and Saudi Arabia.
The program, overseen by the UAE Space Agency, then selected 10 winners to participate in the inaugural edition.
“I knew I had to apply because it would allow me to explore my love for space at an advanced level,” said Saudi national Nuran Al-Youssef, 16, one of the future astronomers selected for the program.
“There’s only so much a person can learn from online research papers and books and I wanted to have real-world experiences in the field that I love.”
Joining Al-Youssef in the program’s talent track will be Muhammad Al-Sayed Subai,17, Salah El-Din Jalal, 17, and Nuran Al-Sayed, 16, from Egypt; Fatima Al-Abdullah, 16, from Saudi Arabia; Muhammad Zakaria, 15, from Algeria; and Muhammad Al-Jroub, 16, from Jordan.
It would allow me to explore my love for space at an advanced level.
The talent track offers training that will assist participants in entering the scientific field.
Maria Muhammad from the Comoros, Muhammad Abdel Jawad from Syria, and Asmaa Al-Mismari from Saudi Arabia were selected for the program’s student track, which will assist participants in earning college scholarships.
Participants in both tracks will receive training in the UAE’s space research and development centers.
Al-Youssef became interested in space exploration when she was 7 while living in Texas as her parents pursued their graduate degrees. After borrowing a simple astronomy book from the library, her curiosity peaked. Al-Youssef then visited NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston when she was in the sixth grade, which solidified her goal to learn more about the skies above.
After she returned to the Kingdom, Al-Youssef started a small club called the Saudi Youth Space Association where the main goal was to encourage youth to pursue careers in space-related fields.
“The majority of students who would come into these webinars have an interest in astronomy, but don’t know if they want to pursue it as a career,” she said. “Seeing someone who has done it before and succeeded can inspire them to turn their dreams into a reality.”
My ultimate goal is to eventually work in the Saudi Space Commission.
Saudi Fatma Al-Abdullah, 16, said she discovered her love for science during summer programs hosted by the King Abdul Aziz and His Companions Foundation for Giftedness and Creativity (Mawhiba).
The 11th grader from Al-Ahsa has a passion for modern physics and mathematics and she has also participated in various olympiads.
“Throughout the application and vetting process, I was trying my best to show how passionate I am about space science, technology and mathematics and how driven I am to achieve my goals,” Al-Abdullah said.
Both students have high aspirations for the future. Al-Youssef wants to become an astronaut and she plans to study astronomy and aerospace engineering in college.
“My ultimate goal is to eventually work in the Saudi Space Commission and play a part in shaping Saudi Arabia’s space future,” she said.