Heyam Al Blooshi says she wants to be part of the UAE Mars mission to make it “smarter and one step ahead”. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National
Heyam Al Blooshi says she wants to be part of the UAE Mars mission to make it “smarter and one step ahead”. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National

Emirati has sights on UAE mission to Mars

ABU DHABI // When Heyam Al Blooshi heard about the UAE’s plan to send an unmanned probe to Mars in 2021, she felt the need to take part.

The 26-year-old had been working as a planning engineer for Gasco (Abu Dhabi Gas In​dustries) in Al Ruwais, in the Western Region, for the past two years.

But that did not diminish her love for space science. So, when the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre announced that it would send students to American universities this summer as part of the Hope mission, she immediately wanted to apply.

“I am interested in building the satellite for the UAE’s Mars mission, piece by piece, and programming the software that they are going to use,” said the Emirati from Abu Dhabi. “I want to work on how they are going to protect it from the Sun, what technology they are going to use.

“There are so many questions, such as how can we utilise that wasted heat and energy within the satellite itself?”

In the programme, students will undergo intensive training in space sciences at the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of Colorado, Boulder.

Her aim was to make the mission “smarter and one step ahead. It may sound silly but it will give it that special Emirati touch,” she said.

After graduating as a mechanical engineer from the Petroleum Institute in 2011, she was granted an elite fellowship at the Nasa Ames Research Centre in California.

“I stayed there for five months then came back to the UAE, where I started working at Gasco,” she said.

“The experience was outstanding. It was very well rounded and beneficial and the amount of research and technology they use is very interesting because it is very high-tech, including elements that the UAE could use.”

Some of the technology she dealt with related to recycling water for astronauts.

“It’s very expensive to ship water to space so their technology purifies human liquid waste into water,” she said.

“My project was related to that and I worked with a mentor there on bio-engineering. I was very interested in it.”

Next she applied for Cornell University, in New York state, where she got accepted on a full scholarship to study biomedical engineering.

“I had to decline because my father wanted me to work in the UAE,” she said. “He didn’t really grasp the idea of sending me abroad, especially to the US.

“It was devastating, to be honest, but everything happens for a reason and my aim is to break the stereotype for ladies in the UAE and be a role model for young Emiratis and the next generation.

“I was born in Bani Yas and attended a government school where everything was in Arabic. I then went to one of the toughest universities and graduated as an honours student but never gave up my image.”

Ms Al Blooshi’s next goal is to acquire a master’s degree in mechanical engineering, specifically in solid state mechanics, then follow this with a doctoral degree.

“My interest is in vibration and automation, which means how we benefit from energy wasted,” she said.

“For instance, when you drive over a hump, the shock absorbers move and we can store that movement into electricity using a device and use that energy to power lights in cars.

“I believe that little things matter the most – though all other engineers look to solve the problems of the world by looking at the bigger picture, not the details. But if you add all these details, you can benefit from them and gain a larger and more efficient system.”


Mercer, the investment consulting arm of US services company Marsh & McLennan, expects its wealth division to at least double its assets under management (AUM) in the Middle East as wealth in the region continues to grow despite economic headwinds, a company official said.

Mercer Wealth, which globally has $160 billion in AUM, plans to boost its AUM in the region to $2-$3bn in the next 2-3 years from the present $1bn, said Yasir AbuShaban, a Dubai-based principal with Mercer Wealth.

Within the next two to three years, we are looking at reaching $2 to $3 billion as a conservative estimate and we do see an opportunity to do so,” said Mr AbuShaban.

Mercer does not directly make investments, but allocates clients’ money they have discretion to, to professional asset managers. They also provide advice to clients.

“We have buying power. We can negotiate on their (client’s) behalf with asset managers to provide them lower fees than they otherwise would have to get on their own,” he added.

Mercer Wealth’s clients include sovereign wealth funds, family offices, and insurance companies among others.

From its office in Dubai, Mercer also looks after Africa, India and Turkey, where they also see opportunity for growth.

Wealth creation in Middle East and Africa (MEA) grew 8.5 per cent to $8.1 trillion last year from $7.5tn in 2015, higher than last year’s global average of 6 per cent and the second-highest growth in a region after Asia-Pacific which grew 9.9 per cent, according to consultancy Boston Consulting Group (BCG). In the region, where wealth grew just 1.9 per cent in 2015 compared with 2014, a pickup in oil prices has helped in wealth generation.

BCG is forecasting MEA wealth will rise to $12tn by 2021, growing at an annual average of 8 per cent.

Drivers of wealth generation in the region will be split evenly between new wealth creation and growth of performance of existing assets, according to BCG.

Another general trend in the region is clients’ looking for a comprehensive approach to investing, according to Mr AbuShaban.

“Institutional investors or some of the families are seeing a slowdown in the available capital they have to invest and in that sense they are looking at optimizing the way they manage their portfolios and making sure they are not investing haphazardly and different parts of their investment are working together,” said Mr AbuShaban.

Some clients also have a higher appetite for risk, given the low interest-rate environment that does not provide enough yield for some institutional investors. These clients are keen to invest in illiquid assets, such as private equity and infrastructure.

“What we have seen is a desire for higher returns in what has been a low-return environment specifically in various fixed income or bonds,” he said.

“In this environment, we have seen a de facto increase in the risk that clients are taking in things like illiquid investments, private equity investments, infrastructure and private debt, those kind of investments were higher illiquidity results in incrementally higher returns.”

The Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, one of the largest sovereign wealth funds, said in its 2016 report that has gradually increased its exposure in direct private equity and private credit transactions, mainly in Asian markets and especially in China and India. The authority’s private equity department focused on structured equities owing to “their defensive characteristics.”


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