Two scientists test space suits and a geo-radar for use in a future Mars mission in the Dhofar desert of southern Oman on Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2018. The desolate desert resembles Mars so much that more than 200 scientists from 25 nations organized by the Austrian Space Forum are using it for the next four weeks to field-test equipment. (AP Photo/Sam McNeil)
Two scientists test space suits and a geo-radar for use in a future Mars mission in the Dhofar desert of southern Oman on Wednesday February, 2018. The desolate desert resembles Mars so much that moreShow more

World Government Summit: UAE is providing world with a glimpse of the future says leading space expert

James Langton

A vision of a new age of Arab scientific achievement with the UAE at its centre has been predicted by one of the world’s leading scientists.

Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson said that events like Expo 2020 and ambitious projects like the Emirate’s Mars Mission could inspire a new generation with hope.

Speaking at the World Government Summit in Dubai, he said that the prospect of Expo 2020 reminded him of the excitement and passion he felt  as a young boy after visiting the New York City World’s Fair in 1964.

“This is already the city of the future,” he said.

“You’ve got this right here in this country. You are also going to Mars. It's all there. Everything is in place. To bring a force of nature to the next generation.

“I know what that feels like, I experienced that and I am delighted to see a resurgence of that in the Middle East.”

Referring to the golden age of Arab scientific achievements, he added: “This is drawing what is already a  legacy of the golden age, a thousand years ago.

“You are not pulling this out of nothing. It’s got a precident.  To lead the world in science ,technology, engineering, and maths.

“Arabic numerals, algebra algorithms - these are Arabic words, as I remind people back in the Untied States, from an era where people thought about the future and the role science and technology could play.”


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Mr deGrasse Tyson, the director of the Hayden Planetarium and a familiar face from television on the subjects of space and astronomy, was invited to Dubai to speak about the future of human space colonisation.

It is a subject on which he remains deeply sceptical, arguing that human exploration has historically always been driven by factors that include the fear of conquest, or  theacquisition of expected wealth, neither of which were present in plans to colonise other planets.

"Why would you do this?, he asked. “We are enchanted by the capacity to think it through, rather than whether anyone will actually do it.”

“Private enterprise will do this? My read of history tells me no, not because I don’t want it to be so, but because I am just a realist about this.

“Here's why its not going to happen There is no capital market valuation of the space frontier . It’s expensive."

Mr deGrasse Tyson gave the example of plans to settle mankind on Mars, which he called "a modern object of our affection,” with proposals like Mars One, which envisages setting up a colony on the planet but with no way of returning to Earth.

“Before we go to Mars lets talk about Antarctica…warmer and wetter than any place on Mars. I don't see people lined up. Gee, (do) I want to have condos in Antartica?

Instead he viewed space exploration as an area of endeavour where governments should take the lead, and one which often had unexpected consequences and benefits.

He gave the example of the Apollo 8 mission in 1968, the first time the Earth was viewed and photographed from space.

“Something unexpected happened. We went to the Moon and we discovered Earth for the first time.

“Spaceship Earth as nature intends to you view it, not with colour coded countries as in your school room but with just oceans and lands and clouds.

It inspired, he said, campaigns like Earth Day and bans on the insecticide DDT and leaded petrol became forces for improving life on our planet.

“This was the beginning of the modern environmental movement,” he said.

Private enterprise would become increasingly active in space, he predicted, but in fields like asteroid mining which would create the first space industry multi-billionaires.

Extracting lower cost raw materials and even water from space have the potential to dramatically reduce the costs of space travel, he said, and perhaps even lead to the first space tourists.

Governments would also turn to the private sector to solve problems like the threat of a massive extinction level asteroid strike on Earth, he added.

Even without reaching other planets, the idea of space has the power to inspire young minds, Mr deGrasse Tyson said.

"Space is a gateway subject into the sciences, of physics, planetary geology, chemistry, medicine. All of this matters, when you go into space. It is the driver of  science, technology, engineering and mathematics and STEM fields are the engines of tomorrow’s economy.”

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