Plan to build a base on Mars 'not a fantasy', says Emirati space official

Adnan Al Rais, Mars 2117 manager at the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre, says a settlement on the Red Planet was a long-term plan to benefit humanity

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The UAE’s plan to build a settlement on Mars by the year 2117 is not just a dream, a top Emirati space official has said.

Adnan Al Rais, Mars 2117 manager at the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre, said some people doubted whether the settlement project could ever happen.

But Mr Al Rais told the Future Innovation Summit on Wednesday that the UAE's plan to build a scientific settlement on Mars was a long-term plan to benefit humanity.

“Some people think about this like a fantasy but there is something ... definitely happening,” he said. “The UAE has a vision and a clear path for the next 100 years."

The Emirates in 2017 announced ambitious plans to build a human colony on the Red Planet in 100 years.

Since then, the space centre has sent its Hope spacecraft to study the planet’s atmosphere, and is building a Dh500 million science city in Dubai that simulates the conditions on Mars. It also aims to land a rover on the Moon this year.

The UAE has said the space programme is not just about missions, but also helping to create jobs. The sector provides more than 3,200 jobs, with more than 57 space companies and five space science research centres operating in the UAE.

"We're going to continue investing in science, technology and space, which means that we're going to continue investing in our youth continue," Mr Al Rais said.

But there is still no technology readily available that can transport humans to Mars, or protect them from the deadly radiation during the journey there and while on the planet.

Elon Musk’s SpaceX has developed the Starship rocket to send humans to Mars but it is yet to perform its first orbital flight.

The billionaire also has plans to colonise the Red Planet and hopes to send a million people there by 2050.

But plans to colonise Mars have sometimes been criticised.

British astrophysicist Martin Rees has said: "Mars is a very hostile environment.

"What I certainly don’t buy is an idea espoused by Elon Musk and by my late colleague, Stephen Hawking, that we should expect that literally millions of people will go and settle on Mars as a way of escaping Earth problems."

Several research programmes are taking place to help the Mars 2117 goal, including the country’s participation in an analogue mission.

The project involves Saleh Al Ameri, an Emirati who is spending eight-months inside a Russian facility that mimics space travel and helps scientists to understand the effects on the human body of long-duration deep space missions on the human body.

Mr Al Rais said that the UAE is following international space plans, which are to land humans on the Moon, build a sustainable base on the surface and then eventually send humans to Mars from there.

“[The] Moon is basically the gateway to Mars," he said. "This is the roadmap set by international agencies and the UAE is part of that.

"This is called the global solutions roadmap. So, the Gateway [a planned lunar-orbiting station] will send humans back to the surface of the Moon and then there will be future missions to the surface of the Mars."

Maj Hazza Al Mansouri, the UAE’s first astronaut, spoke by video at the event on Wednesday. He is training in Houston for the country’s next mission to space, in which he will probably be the back-up astronaut.

“We are currently in an exciting period in the history of space exploration,” Maj Al Mansouri said.

“The UAE is preparing its astronauts to participate in a new advanced missions, collecting new data from Mars, preparing to launch a mission to the Moon and developing the most advanced, high accuracy, high resolution imaging satellites.

“In our quest to explore the vastness of space, we are creating technologies and deriving innovation that are now being used to benefit human society, from urban planning to disaster management, as well as exploring sustainable means to create a better more now and in the future.”

The Future Innovation Summit continues in Dubai on Thursday.

Updated: May 11, 2022, 1:47 PM