Zayed: the Trailblazer of UAE’s Journey into Space

مجلة مدارات ونقوش – العدد 9

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Ali Obaid Al Hamli
Between the launch of the first 100% UAE-made satellite this year, the announcement of the first Emirati astronaut who will go on a mission to the International Space Station on the Russian «Soyuz MS-12» in April 2019, and planning to reach Mars in 2021, the leaders of the UAE and its people strive to achieve Zayed’s dream, RIP, to go to space. Did the founding leader dream one day to explore this domain, and when?

The answer is yes. Zayed, RIP, dreamed of this more than four decades ago, when the UAE itself was a dream coming true; establishing a country that is now a monument embracing the sky, where many countries are trying to replicate its experience and achieve what it has accomplished in a few years.
The witness to Zayed’s dream of Emiratis’ going to space is still between us. He is one of the most prominent scientists who have left footprints in this sector registering their name in the history of space travel; the Egyptian scientist, Dr. Farouk El-Baz, Director of Applications of Remote Sensing Centre at the University of Boston, USA, with his record of positions and achievements in space science.
In late September 2014, Dr. Farouk El-Baz visited the UAE at the invitation of The Cultural & Scientific Association to deliver a lecture. He was hosted at the News Center, in Dubai Media Incorporated, to record an episode of «Debatable» program.
Once the recording of the episode began, producer and presenter, Tunisian Naufar Rammol, surprised him with an old photo of him and the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, RIP, with a group of astronauts around a structure of a spacecraft.
The Arab astronaut had a big smile on his face and said that he recalled the date and occasion of the photo dating back to four decades. He had a meeting with the founder of the UAE in 1974, in which he noticed the great interest of Sheikh Zayed in space travel, which made him nominate the UAE to be one of the stations of a tour made by a group of American astronauts in 1976
The photo was taken on March 12 of that year, when Sheikh Zayed received Dr. El-Baz and the astronauts who landed on the moon. Sheikh Zayed gave generous support to NASA programs and activities that serve humanity, saying that he and the people of the UAE are seeking to get everything that helps them to promote their state and other sister and friend countries of the world, including the benefit from space science.
Was Sheikh Zayed thinking of preparing the Emiratis to go to space and reach beyond the moon at that time? Was the occasion that gathered him with astronauts more than a picture? How many Arab rulers did Dr. Al-Baz meet in that tour and others, in which he took similar photos with them without turning into projects, even on paper? Did the sons of Zayed achieve the dream of their father and founder of their state after more than 40 years of that picture?
We ask these questions while contemplating the image of Zayed, RIP, with Dr. El-Baz and the American astronauts who have landed on the moon and following up on what the sons and grandchildren of Zayed are doing today, and what they are planning to regarding travel to space, starting with the “Hope Probe” which the UAE has set a date for its reaching Mars in 2021.
This was necessary, according to Dr. El-Baz, who says that when the United States planned to reach the moon in the 1960s, former US president John Kennedy set a time limit for achieving this goal.
That had been a good decision; if this had not happened, Americans could not have achieved the first human landing on the moon on June 20, 1969.
This is what the UAE did when it set a time limit for the project of sending a probe to the Red Planet. UAE immediately began the practical steps to implement it through the establishment of UAE Space Agency and the launch of «KhalifaSat»; the first satellite developed 100% by Emirati engineers, which is a highly developed engineering icon. The stages of its completion began following the announcement by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, about the launch of Khalifa Sat project in December 2013.
It was entirely designed, developed, manufactured and managed in the facilities of the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Center (MBRSC) by a team of UAE engineers and talents working in MBRSC. Moreover, it is the first satellite to be in the clean rooms at MBRSC space technology labs in Dubai. In addition to the first Emirati astronaut who will go on a spaceflight to the International Space Station on the Russian «Soyuz MS-12» in April 2019.
“If Zayed could see you, his eyes would overflow with tears … you are the plant he grew, the fruit of his labor and the crowning of his achievement.” With this phrase, Mohammed bin Rashid addressed the “Hope Probe” team upon the 2015 announcement of the UAE project of exploring Mars. His Highness said, “43 years ago from a small tent, Zayed and Rashid worked tirelessly to build the people of the UAE. Today, under the leadership of His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, President of the UAE, we have a team that competes with the great nations to reach Mars.”
Only great leaders have big dreams. Zayed, may his soul rest in peace, was a great leader indeed. Thus, his dreams exceeded the limits of the reality that the UAE was living after five years of its establishment, and was therefore the trailblazer of UAE’s journey into space.