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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 24 June 2018

Mars exploration is not just important – it appeals to our very core as human beings

Space exploration should be viewed not as a luxury, but rather, a vital exercise that’s potential value is immeasurable, writes Nicolas Chamussy

An image of Mars taken from the Hubble Space Telescope. NASA / AP
An image of Mars taken from the Hubble Space Telescope. NASA / AP

One of the main questions that frequently arises in any conversation about Mars exploration is quite simply, why? Why spend such valuable monetary and human capital resources on exploring a faraway planet when there are so many pressing concerns that need addressing right here on earth? There are many answers to such a question. Some employ arguments about the very nature of the human spirit and our species’ innate desire to explore, others position Mars exploration as, quite simply, a natural step in the history of human progress and our shared pursuit of knowledge. However, there is one common thread that runs through each argument and truly encapsulates why human beings are driven to explore the unknown. That common thread is connection.

One will struggle to locate the exact moment in history that globalisation truly came into existence: there have indeed been many academic arguments around its inception. While timelines are difficult to conclude, the very definition of the concept is somewhat easier. Globalisation represents the process of the intensification of economic, political, social, cultural and military relations across international boundaries with the primary aim of homogenisation.

It is extremely difficult for us to imagine a time before globalisation. The creation of the aviation industry is a relatively new addition on the timeline of human progress. And yet the enormity of its influence is hard to comprehend. If globalisation is defined by connectivity, then the aviation industry is without a doubt at the forefront of this development. Security, economic growth and international trade are just some of the key areas that are driven by the aviation industry. And innovations in the industry are key to further improving and developing these areas. Aviation has the power to unite people and nations. And, this power to connect and unite extends to space and Mars exploration.

Space exploration is widely regarded as one of the most effective ways to inspire youth to develop a keen interest in STEM education and technological inventions. Scientific knowledge is what drives human progress. And a mission to the red planet has the power to excite new generations of scientists, innovators, physicians, engineers and astronauts. Inspiring younger generations to see a future filled with undiscovered possibility is a key aim of the Emirates Mars Mission. When the spacecraft arrives at Mars in 2021, it will become the first-ever Arab Islamic mission to another planet. As a nation dedicated to developing a thriving knowledge-based economy that draws upon the talents of a young, highly skilled and agile workforce, the UAE through its Mars mission aims to demonstrate the capability of the Arab people as contributors to the advancement of humanity and civilisations.

The mission also aims to establish the space technology industry as a key economic sector in the country for years to come. This sector is fast becoming integral to all aspects of modern human life, from national security to telecommunications to broadcasting to monitoring for natural disasters. Space travel will help us to continue to innovate here on Earth, and in doing so continue to better the societies in which we live and our understanding of the world around us.

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Such a mission also requires international collaboration bringing together the world’s greatest and most talented minds to achieve one objective on behalf of humanity. One cannot underestimate the wealth of knowledge and innovations that will arise in pursuit of this goal – inventions that can make valuable contributions to humankind in the fields of medicine and human biology to name but a few. This is in addition to the fact that space exploration fosters peaceful relations between countries, highlights our commonalities as human beings and promotes a global sense of community. And with the current geopolitical climate, this can only be a good thing.

Mars exploration is important for each and every one of us. It enables us to better understand our Earth and answer compelling questions about the very nature of our existence including: how did the earth form, where does water come from and why is Earth the only planet known to demonstrate signs of life? Scientific missions to date have demonstrated that Mars has similar characteristics to Earth, and yet, such striking differences that they raise important questions about our own geological evolution.

And finally, the exploration of space appeals to our very nature as human beings. One of the key ways that we differ from other species is our active pursuit of knowledge and our drive to collaborate with one another to evolve and progress. The exploration of Mars represents the latest point in our history as human beings. Not only does it serve humankind’s innate curiosity, but it represents the natural progression of our exploration to the ends of the Earth, landing on the moon and the first successful mission to Mars. It also presents an opportunity for us to collaborate on a mission that will have profound effects on our understanding of our planet and our solar system. It will connect us to one another, while connecting us to a planet that just a few decades ago, would have been beyond our wildest dreams. And when the stakes are so high and the returns even higher, space exploration should be viewed not as a luxury, but rather, a vital exercise that’s potential value is immeasurable.

Nicolas Chamussy is executive vice president of space systems at Airbus