Salem Al Marri has been appointed as the new chief of the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre, the organisation with a key role in several UAE space projects, such as its astronaut programme and the Emirates Mars Mission.
Mr Al Marri, 39, was among the small group of Emiratis that helped set up a national space programme in 2006, when work to develop the UAE’s first satellite, DubaiSat-1, began.
He replaces Yousuf Al Shaibani, who served as the centre's director general since 2013.
Mr Al Marri was part of the team that set up the Emirates Institution for Advanced Science and Technology in 2006. It became the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre in 2015.
He was the project manager of DubaiSat-1 and DubaiSat-2, the UAE’s first two Earth-observation satellites launched in 2009 and 2013, respectively.
In 2014, he received the UAE Pioneers Award for leading the development and launch of the satellites. The awards were introduced by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, to celebrate Emiratis performing exceptional work in their chosen fields.
Efforts to strengthen the national space programme were made in 2014, when the UAE Space Agency was formed, a federal entity that oversees policy and regulation.
Mr Al Marri also leads the UAE’s astronaut programme, which so far has four members, including the first Arab female astronaut.
He helped oversee the country’s first mission to space, when Hazza Al Mansouri went to the International Space Station in 2019.
The UAE became the first Arab country to the host the International Astronautical Congress – the world’s largest space conference – this year. Mr Al Marri was the head of the bidding team that helped the Emirates win the rights to host.
He has represented the UAE and the space centre in more than 50 international conferences.
Future plans as chief
Mr Al Marri told The National previously that the UAE’s space plans would follow global space-exploration efforts, including to the Moon and Mars.
One of the focus areas for the space centre is the country’s long-term Moon exploration plan that will include the development of lunar orbiters and rovers.
Next year, the Rashid rover, the nation’s first Moon mission, will launch from Florida’s Kennedy Space Centre.
The UAE and Nasa are also in active discussions about the Emirates potentially joining the Artemis programme, which aims to establish a sustainable human presence on the Moon.
Plans to build a Dh500 million ($136.1m) Mars Science City in Dubai International Academic City is also under way, with construction expected to begin next year. This would help the space centre's plan to send astronauts to Mars one day.
Mr Al Marri also hopes to secure a second mission to the International Space Station and is in discussions with partners.
“We are in negotiations," Mr Al Marri said. "We’re always discussing Emirati space missions with our partners and finding ways to send the next Emirati to the ISS.
"We’ll announce the [next] mission in time and when we’re ready."
The UAE also has plans to undertake a mission to the Solar System's main asteroid belt, with a Venus fly-by, but the project manager has not been announced yet.