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Home / Opinion / Ali Obaid Al Dhaheri

The Year of the Ox and a new Mars spring

By H.E. Dr. Ali Obaid Al Dhaheri | | Updated: 2021-02-08 08:41
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With Spring Festival upon us as we enter into the Chinese New Year, many of us are looking with hope to the future. It is apt that at the cusp of this new year, there is optimism on the horizon, with both the UAE and China achieving respective arrivals to the orbit of Mars.

Mars missions from our two nations will arrive within one day of the other – the UAE's on Feb 9 and China's on Feb 10. By the time Spring Festival rolls in, both of our nations will be united in celebration.

In the UAE's case, the Mars mission is called the Hope Probe and after the challenges that have stretched every aspect of our lives, we will indeed look with great hope to this new Chinese year so full of promise.

The Hope Probe will spend nearly two years surveying the planet's atmosphere to study daily changes in Martian weather. It puts the UAE on track to be the first Arab nation to deploy an interplanetary probe and join an exclusive group of spacefaring countries that have done the same.

China's Mars Mission, Tianwen-1, a five-ton spacecraft, will burn its engines to slow the vehicle down enough to be captured by Mars' gravitational pull. The rover will land on the surface at a later date in two to three months. This strategy will allow engineers to assess the atmospheric conditions on Mars before making a challenging descent.

With such close parallels, the results and outcomes of our two nations' respective Mars missions will complement each other. The scientific insights our missions will both have achieved will be vast and there will be opportunities for collaboration through knowledge exchange.

A new era of space exploration

Many people look at such Mars Missions through the lens of the space missions of the 1960s and 1970s, the last great era of space exploration, as part of a broader race between nations. However, this new space exploration has many more dimensions. We saw this demonstrated recently when China recovered almost 2 kg of lunar samples collected from the moon by the country's recent Chang'e 5 mission.

In the case of Chang'e 5 there is a strong science and research aspect. These materials are being sent to the laboratory for science and research, with China expressing a willingness to share with other countries for research projects, and now work is underway to get the materials to the laboratory for science and for sharing.

International space cooperation

There is now a real opportunity for international space cooperation. There are proposals for an international moon village for 2050. We could be working with our friends around the world including China on mining opportunities, power stations and a moon stopover on the 34-million-mile journey from earth to the red planet.

China also has space facilities which provide a great testing ground for hardware and people, and the next generation of astronauts for Mars. This provides a great deal of scope for cooperation, as we work with China as part of a broader ecosystem.

A new space economy

The commercialization of space is very real. In the short to medium term spending on space is estimated to outstrip overall economic growth next few years - private and public spending will, with international cooperation, send millions of humans to Mars within one or two generations.

This new era of space exploration can realistically be considered a new economy. The globalized future that we are moving into is gathering apace with new technologies driving forward a new dynamism. The UAE has struck a new model to transform into an innovative and technologically advanced economy. Technologies such as artificial intelligence, space technology, alternative and green energy sources – they are all key focal points for the UAE.

There is much opportunity. Due to the UAE's unique position in the small family of nations taking part in advanced space exploration, I have had the opportunity to meet with the China National Space Administration. We found that there is certainly much scope for future cooperation in space missions.

As the Chinese saying goes, "A journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step." Well, with 34 million miles to Mars, we are certainly well on the way and making great strides.

The Year of the Ox may be auspicious, with the animal considered in China since ancient times an animal of strength that is associated with harvests and fertility. The harvest of focused efforts in building advanced technologies is now upon us, and I would like to wish a happy Spring Festival to you all.

The author is ambassador of the United Arab Emirates to China. The opinions expressed here are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of China Daily and China Daily website.

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