More than 2,000 people have applied to become the country’s first astronauts, the head of the UAE Space Agency revealed on Tuesday.
They include applicants in their 60s, Dr Mohammed Al Ahbabi said. The minimum age is 18.
“The idea is to maximise the number of applicants”, Dr Al Ahbabi said. “It is an indication that the level of talent is high.”
Four UAE nationals, with at least degree level qualifications, will be selected this year as the first members of an astronaut corps, with the goal of sending the first to the International Space Station by 2021, the 50th anniversary of the country’s foundation.
The director of the space agency was speaking at the launch of a new challenge designed to raise interest in space. The iShuttle website will pose a series of problems for the public to solve.
The first challenge, aimed at pupils from Year 10 to university students, is to design an experiment to send up in a high altitude balloon. The winner will get a prize of Dh3,000, with the experiments evaluated for inclusion in a real high altitude mission.
The closing date for submissions is the end of January.
Dr Al Ahbabi said the iShuttle was one many initiatives planned by the agency. The idea, he said, was to "Improve the awareness of space and open doors to talented people. Where are they? Through this platform we will find out."
The director compared the challenge to the Genes in Space competition, sponsored by The National and won by Alia Al Mansouri, a 15-year-old school girl from Dubai. Her experiment was sent to the ISS last year.
“We want to open doors for so many Alias,” Dr Al Ahbabi said.
Speaking at the launch, Dr Ahmad Al Falasi, Minister of State for Higher Education and Chairman of the agency, said: “We seek to prepare and nurture generations of talented UAE nationals to become leaders in the space industry.”
The UAE space industry is preparing for a series of major events in 2018, which following on from the successes of last year “Will be another year of space,” Dr Al Ahbabi said.
On January 25, the Al Yah 3 satellite will be launched from French Guiana, providing broadband coverage from Africa to Brazil. The satellite will be part of a network operated by YahSat, the Abu Dhabi-based commercial communications company.
Two more launches are due to take place later in the year. Mysat is small cube satellite designed by Masdar Institute of Technology and Khalifa University of Science and Technology.
Only 10cm on each side, it will hold two experiments including a camera for Earth observation and experimental battery.
Finally, the first satellite to be entirely designed and built in the UAE will be sent into orbit over the summer. KhalifaSat is operated by the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre and was built in Dubai with an advanced camera system capable of capturing images only a few metres wide from orbit as well as much larger areas.
It will be launched on a Mitsubishi Heavy Industries rocket in Japan in the middle of this year.