Why Mars? – A Perspective From The United Arab Emirates

Multiple nations now have Mars in their sights as one of the most challenging goals humans can imagine. Here, Talal M. Al Kaissi of the United Arab Emirates explains why his country is one of the most recent to join the effort to explore Mars.

KARIM SAHIB VIA GETTY IMAGES
Sarah Amiri, deputy project manager of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) Mars Mission, stands on stage during a ceremony to unveil the mission on May 6, 2015 in Dubai.

“We chose the epic challenge of reaching Mars because epic challenges inspire us and motivate us. The moment we stop taking on such challenges is the moment we stop moving forward.”

When His Highness Shiekh Mohamed Bin Rashed Al Maktoum, the UAE’s Vice President, Prime Minister, and Ruler of Dubai made that proclamation, it was July of 2014, and the UAE was 43 years old. The comment was made shortly after the establishment of the UAE Space Agency. At that point, the UAE’s investments in the “space” sector had already exceeded $5 billion, including Al Yah Satellite Communications Company (YAHSAT) and Thuraya, which specialize in satellite telecommunication. Another UAE entity (EIAST) had even built and launched two earth observations satellites. The UAE was far along on its path to diversify its economy away from hydrocarbons, with approximately 70 percent of the country’s GDP represented by non-oil based activities. With the global financial crisis finally beginning to recede, the country decided to aim even higher. In that spirit, 2021 was set as the target year to have the spacecraft achieve Martian orbit, to coincide with the country’s 50th year anniversary. And as though six and a half years was not ambitious enough, roughly a year will need to be shaved off to complete preparations by the launch window in 2020.

So “Why Mars?” Those who recall U.S. President John F. Kennedy’s speech in 1962, later dubbed “the Kennedy Moonshot,” understand how inspirational a simple message can be: “Not because it is easy, but because it is hard.” The U.S. was 186 years old at the time. Of course, Sputnik and the Cold War may have contributed to the drive behind that goal. The UAE’s objective, while similar in its attempt to galvanize inspiration, rests on a different motivation.

Anyone who has followed the UAE over the last two decades understands that while it is a small nation in a geographic region that is more notable for unfortunate geopolitical issues, the country stands out for a number of reasons: Its visionary leadership and good governance, its advanced first class infrastructure and position as an important logistical hub, and perhaps most importantly, a solid commitment by the government to providing education for every citizen.

The result is evident in the 200 nationalities that coexist in a country the size of the state of Maine, whose population is just under 10 million people (with roughly 10 percent UAE nationals) and where most Fortune 100 multinational companies have a regional headquarters. With recently inaugurated federal Ministries of Tolerance, Happiness, and Youth, the UAE is a pioneer regionally as well as globally in effective government and business promotion. Many sectors, including tourism, logistics, aviation, heavy industry and technology have been part of the economic diversification process, utilizing the comparative and competitive advantage the UAE holds. In that regard, the UAE’s entrance into the space sector was an inevitable eventuality and has garnered a lot of attention in the past two years.

The Emirates Mars Mission, called “Hope”, has a few main high-level objectives.

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My Personal Mission To (And For) Mars

By Clementine Poidatz, Actress

Image Credit NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC
Image Credit NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC

Frankly, I was ignorant. I freely admit that. Before I joined the cast of the National Geographic series, Mars, I didn’t know very much about Mars ― and to be honest I didn’t really care. Like many people, I didn’t see how it related to me and why we should spend the money to go to Mars when there are so many problems in the world today that I deemed more important.

But as I prepared for my theatrical role as a crew member of the first mission to Mars, something wonderful happened. As I studied for my part by watching videos, reading articles, and finding out as much as I could about how and why we plan to send humans to Mars, to my great surprise I found my perspective changing. Later, when I was on the set, I found an infectious passion among the crew and cast. I wasn’t the only one who was transformed by our participation in Mars. Many of my fellow cast members also discovered themselves as being passionate advocates for making humanity a multi-planet species. We all realized that this was not like an ordinary film project. Instead, we were part of something that was bigger and of more lasting importance. We had the potential to inspire students and show the world that sending human to Mars will be one of the most important and historic events in human history.

We need big dreams. Children in France (where I’m from) don’t seem to have big dreams these days. In fact, I’m not sure that they are even aware that sending humans to Mars is no longer science fiction but is now within our reach. I was born in 1981, and many people in my generation simply don’t believe that we as a species are capable anymore of doing great things. And I find that sad and even a little scary. This wasn’t the case when my parents were growing up. The world was far from perfect, but they had big dreams. My parents told me that the most amazing thing that they remember ― the event that inspired them and made them hopeful for the future ― was when the Apollo 11 astronauts first stepped foot on the surface of the Moon. They made small steps on the Moon, but it was a giant leap forward for humanity, and they came in peace for all humanity. Unfortunately, the most transforming memory I have (and I’m sure it’s true of my generation as a whole) is the September 11th attacks – clearly a very significant event, but not the type of event that makes anyone hopeful for the future. Sending humans to Mars, however, is my generation’s opportunity for a positive future, and we should embrace it.

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Why Mars Can Be Affordable And Achievable

SCOTT AUDETTE / REUTERS
The Delta IV Heavy rocket with the Orion spacecraft lifts off from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Cape Canaveral, Florida December 5, 2014.  (UNITED STATES – Tags: TRANSPORT SCIENCE TECHNOLOGY)  REUTERS/Scott Audette

by Joe Cassady, Executive Director for Space Programs, Washington Operations,

Aerojet Rocketdyne

Why should humans venture to Mars? In some sense, it is to fulfill a longing in our collective psyche. Humanity has dreamed of walking on Mars since travel above the Earth’s surface became feasible… Those dreams seemed to be on the verge of being realized with the dawn of the Space Age in the mid-20th Century, but for decades Mars remained out of reach to human explorers on site. That frustrating situation has resulted in what many have come to see as Mars being perpetually “20 years away.”  In the terminology used for space launches, we have been in a “hold” for the past 30 years. Today, however, we can finally say that the countdown clock is running. We are going to Mars, twenty years and counting! If we stay the course, the first humans will set foot on the Red Planet by the year 2033.

New technologies have become available that have allowed us to take a fresh look at how to approach human Mars missions and, as a result, to tackle the hardest technical problems that had previously led to a hold in the countdown. And these approaches have given us the ability to design an architecture that can be brought on line incrementally, which keeps the annual expenditures within a reasonable projected NASA human spaceflight budget.

The key to this architecture is to separate much of the supplies and equipment and send them in advance of the crew.  By prepositioning equipment, supplies, and even return rocket stages (more than 80 percent of the total mass), using propulsion systems such as solar electric propulsion (SEP) that are extremely energy efficient for long-haul cargo missions, we can save more than half the costs versus transporting everything using chemical propulsion systems that are needed to reach orbit.

On the other hand, the Space Launch System (SLS) is the key to placing large blocks of payload into Earth orbit.  An analogy here on Earth would be how intermodal shipping of supplies and manufactured goods is accomplished. Short haul is accomplished by trucks or rail, while long haul is accomplished by massive ships.  In this same way, SLS accomplishes the short haul mission to orbit, whereas the cargo is transported over the much larger distance to Mars by solar electric transport ships. The two different propulsion systems, each of which is appropriate for its particular type of mission, are complementary.  And to transport the astronauts, we add in a third element: the Orion multi-purpose crew vehicle as well as a deep-space habitat module, which together provide living space and life support systems.

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Why Mars? An Astronaut’s Perspective

I have dedicated my life to answering the great scientific questions of our time, and to the incredible adventure of space exploration.

by John M. Grunsfeld, Astronaut, Scientist, Explorer

Image Credit NASA
As a young boy growing up on the South Side of Chicago, I was inspired by the nascent space age. At the age of six I declared that I wanted to be an astronaut. My mother thought that was just fine, as it would encourage me to learn science, and besides, there really was no chance I would ever actually become an astronaut. While I watched the Apollo astronauts walking on the Moon, I imagined that I might some day travel to Mars, to do science, of course. Indeed, I felt compelled to study nature, science, and engineering, eventually earning a PhD in physics. As a scientist, I sent experiments to near-space on high altitude balloons as well as into space aboard the Space Shuttle. But the explorer in me still wanted to go to space in person. To the amazement of my mother, in 1992 I was selected to become a NASA astronaut. I had the privilege to fly five missions on the Space Shuttle, including three missions to the Hubble Space Telescope. I have dedicated my life to answering the great scientific questions of our time, and to the incredible adventure of space exploration.

Of all the planets in our diverse solar system, Mars is unique in that it is the only planet where we can some day live in a somewhat similar fashion to the way we live on Earth. It is large enough to have a suitable surface gravity, and has an atmosphere and resources we can use to live off the land. Scientists using the intrepid Curiosity Rover have shown us that billions of years ago Mars was very much like Earth, with fresh water lakes, rivers, and warm salty seas. At about the same time that Mars was very much a habitable planet, life started on Earth. Did life also emerge on Mars? The question of whether we are alone in the universe is for the first time a discrete scientific question we can answer. We are exploring Mars for signs of past or extant life. We are also preparing to explore Jupiter’s icy moon Europa, which might harbor a habitable ocean, and with future large telescopes we will look for signs of life on planets orbiting nearby stars. But Mars beckons us like no other world, and we will exponentially increase the pace of discovery when we have women and men explorers ― planetary scientists and astrobiologists ― on the surface of the Red Planet performing scientific research. These intrepid explorers will also be opening up a new frontier.

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