Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 22 August 2019

Earth is our spaceship and we must explore, Abu Dhabi conference told

Industry experts at two-day Global Space Congress event held in capital say space community must shift focus on benefits of going there and not just how to get there.
Abu Dhabi Secondary School student Majid Senbol, 16, explores Mars with virtual reality goggles.  Antonie Robertson / The National
Abu Dhabi Secondary School student Majid Senbol, 16, explores Mars with virtual reality goggles. Antonie Robertson / The National

ABU DHABI // The importance of space exploration to the development of humankind and how it benefits us in our daily lives must be better communicated to secure public support for the sector.

That was the opinion of industry experts, the second day of the two-day Global Space Congress in the capital on Wednesday.

A Nasa astronaut said it was easy for people in her field to understand why space is important, because they firmly believe this is where humanity needs to go.

“When you look down on the planet from the space station, it’s obvious that Earth is our spaceship,” said Dr Sandra Magnus, the executive director of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics who spent 134 days in orbit in 2009.

Dr Magnus said the space community was still struggling to spread their passion and enthusiasm because they focused on the ways space exploration can be achieved and not on why humanity should venture there in the first place.

“The ‘how’ is cool and fun for us, but we need to put ourselves in the place of those we want to reach,” she said.

Sarah Amiri, deputy project manager and science lead at the UAE Mission to Mars at the Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre, said that while recently attending an economic conference she noticed people there were using data obtained from satellites.

“I asked them if they thought space was important and the majority of them said no. They didn’t realise they were using data from space,” Ms Amiri said.

She said that public support was essential to grow the commercial space sector, which would be essential for the development of the space sector as a whole.

“If we do not get the support of the private sector you could see a bubble burst in the field in 5 to 10 years and government cannot continue to sustain these projects,” Ms Amiri said.

Another speaker at the conference said plans to return astronauts to the Moon or send them to Mars would face logistical and financial challenges that required a concerted effort from the international community.

Sir Martin Sweeting, the founder and executive chairman of Surrey Satellite Technology, an aerospace company in the UK, said he suspected evidence of extra-terrestrial life, whether on Mars or elsewhere, would be found within the next decade, which could result in a paradigm shift in the appeal of space.

“This could catalyse humankind to come together to put the necessary resources toward space exploration,” Sir Martin said.

A visiting school pupil said before attending the conference, he had no idea the space field was relevant to his life or his future career.

“Space wasn’t so interesting and I didn’t care about it that much,” said 16-year-old Majid Hassan, who wants to pursue a career in medicine.

When learning that space exploration had directly or indirectly contributed to several technologies used in his desired field, Majid said he would take better notice of the subject and communicate its importance to his fellow students.

But not all needed to be motivated, said Rick Tumlinson, chairman of Deep Space Industries.

“I once thought if we got more astronauts on talk shows everything would be OK, but realised I actually have to motivate them myself,” Mr Tumlinson said.

Getting youngsters to participate in space-related activities would lead to an increased passion in the field, said Minoo Rathnasabapathy, executive director at the Space Generation Advisory Council, a non-government organisation supporting United Nations programmes on space applications.

“It’s critical we inspire the next generation but we also need to actively engage them,” said Ms Rathnasabapathy.

Ms Amiri said younger generations in the UAE were now seeing opportunities in the sector not available previously but that they needed to understand the fundamental reason for space exploration.

“It’s natural for human civilisation to explore and when you go beyond Earth, you can understand what humanity and our existence on this planet mean. It is really about understanding ourselves,” she said.


Updated: February 1, 2017 04:00 AM