The UAE’s first astronaut, Hazza Al Mansouri, and Sharjah-based astrophysicist Dr Nidhal Guessoum were named among the top 100 influential leaders in space exploration for 2021.
The pair's prominent contributions were recognised in a new list published by Richtopia, a digital platform ranking the achievements of leading global figures.
Dr Guessoum, who has expertise in cosmic gamma-rays and Islamic astronomy, took 65th spot in the list ahead of Maj Al Mansouri in 81st, who spent eight days on board the International Space Station in September last year.
SpaceX billionaire Elon Musk was in top spot, with US astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson second, followed by several leading astronauts, including Apollo 11 lunar module commander Buzz Aldrin, astronomers and space scientists.
Dr Guessoum has decades of experience in space science and has published more than 100 papers in prestigious scientific journals, with topics ranging from cosmic gamma-rays to positron annihilation, among others.
He is also a professor at the American University of Sharjah and has published several books, including The Story of the Universe and The Problem of Crescent Months and the Islamic Calendar.
"I was flattered and humbled by being ranked among the top 100 world influential leaders in space exploration," Dr Guessoum told The National.
“I immediately thought that this should be seen as a big encouragement for young Arab scientists and students who are now entering the field of space and astronomy.
"We can achieve things and be recognised beyond our borders and region if we work hard and seriously, and set our sights far and high.”
He said he was delighted to be contributing to and witnessing the rapid growth of the UAE's space industry.
The country this year became the first Arab nation to launch a mission to Mars, with the Hope probe expected to reach the Red Planet in February.
The UAE sent the first Arab astronaut to the International Space Station in 2019 and hopes to land a small rover on the lunar surface by 2024.
Dr Guessoum, who has spent several years as a researcher at Nasa’s Goddard Space Flight Centre, said the Richtopia list helps to highlight the efforts of space professionals.
“This [the list] is not about specific works or discoveries. Most of the people on the list have not made any discoveries or even produced any research in space or astronomy,” he said.
“This is about the impact we make in the world by leading others, mentoring students and youngsters, disseminating correct science, organising activities that further fuels curiosity, distils knowledge and boosts the love of exploration.”
Maj Al Mansouri is training at Nasa's Johnson Space Centre in Houston, with fellow Emirati Dr Sultan Al Neyadi, who was part of the back-up crew for his mission to space.
They are learning how to spacewalk, studying the International Space Station’s systems and training for long-haul space missions.
Two new Emirati astronauts will be announced early next year after an extensive recruitment programme.
They will join the next batch of astronauts to train at Nasa’s astronaut candidate training programme.