Dubai Airshow Nov 2017. UAE has unveiled plans to launch a Mars probe to colonise the Red Planet. Now the UAE has a new aim – to become a centre for space agriculture and the promotion of research into how food might be grown on Mars. The space sector is a huge feature of the Dubai Airshow, with exhibitions, conferences, and speakers that include former Nasa Apollo 15 astronaut, Al Worden. The UAE has launched a series of initiatives and university research projects to promote the growing of trees and plants. There are similarities between Mars and the desert, the landscape and the soil, are similar. The research, though, is not just about learning the lessons of space, but also how improve agriculture on earth. Specifically, the UAE’s studies will look into the date palm, a tree that survives in harsh desert conditions without much water or nutrients in the soil. Working with collaborators internationally, researchers hope to build on research already done on space agriculture involving plants such as lettuce, strawberries, and tomatoes – three foods already shown to have thrived when grown in space. The date palm was chosen for its symbolic links with the region, as a source of food and shelter.
The UAE, and specifically Dubai and Abu Dhabi, are trying to pump-prime the economy in preparation for an end of the oil era. It started with a huge expansion of tourism and airlines, and the associated services and engineering that went with them. Now the UAE is moving into science and hi-tech sectors. The UAE has invested more than $5.4bn in its space sector including satellites. A final full scale mock-up of a Mars probe was unveiled at the airshow. The survey satellite was developed using a team deliberately made up only of Emiratis and will search for water and assess atmospheric conditions. The UAE has also begun work on its Mars Science City, a centre dedicated to studying the colonisation of the planet. The series of domes in the desert, with two million square feet of living space and research facilities, will investigate food, water and energy needs. According to Apollo 15 command module pilot Al Worden, it will also require international cooperation. He’s impressed with ambition of the UAE’s project, and what’s been achieved so far. But he adds: “The scale of the technological challenge will be too much for one country.” Even the UAE’s rulers have described what they are trying to do as “an epic challenger”. Assuming everything progresses as planned, the final step will be a manned landing on Mars within the next 100 years.