Nasa interns look to apply space agency's technology when they return

Three Emirati students, the first non-US citizens to work as interns at Nasa, have described details of their projects at the US space agency.

ABU DHABI // Three Emirati students, the first non-US citizens to work as interns at Nasa, have described details of their projects at the US space agency. Shamma al Qassim, 19, a student at the American University of Sharjah, said she was analysing thermal data from satellites that could potentially be used to predict earthquakes by detecting stress in the Earth's crust. The stress leads to temperature increases that show up in satellite data. Ms al Qassim said her job was to download and examine these satellite images.

Although severe earthquakes are uncommon in the UAE, she said the technology and techniques had other applications for her home country. "When we come back, remote sensing has so many applications and we can use it in monitoring temperature fluctuations, detecting surface water, and it just has so many different things that you can use for research," she said. "The possibilities are almost unlimited."

The work in water-recycling technology has even more obvious applications in the UAE, said Hamad Rajab, 21, an electrical engineering major from UAE University. Mr Rajab's project involves developing a system that can process hygienic water for use in future manned Mars and Moon missions. Having already designed the electrical control system and worked on programming the sensors used in water tanks, he is now developing a wireless network that can transfer data from the sensors to the control system.

The project aims to reduce potable water consumption in Nasa missions by about 50 per cent, have zero net energy consumption by using solar photovoltaic panels and dramatically reduce maintenance costs, Mr Rajab said. "I would love to bring the technology back to the UAE. I look for two main things: saving the environment and sustaining the economy." In the UAE, that means reducing the amount of wasted water that is dumped with sewage and reducing the amount of money spent on desalination systems, which are expensive and a drain on the environment.

Hazza Bani Malek, 20, a Higher Colleges of Technology student from Ras al Khaimah, is working on an automation system for moderating temperature and pressure. His task is to analyse the code in the automation systems, fix any of its shortcomings, then implement it in sensors and electronic devices like gates and valves. One simple application of the system is in conveyor belts at supermarkets, said Mr Bani Malek, which operate according to the location of goods on the belt.

Even in the high-tech environment of the Ames Research Center in northern California where they work, the students said, their traditions and religion are never trampled. "Everything is available," said Mr Bani Malek. "We have halal food and whenever we want to do prayers I just ask my mentor for a break. It's not a big deal."