Dr. Buzz Aldrin, Astronaut, Apollo 11, is seen giving his keynote address during the Global Aerospace Summit at St. Regis Hotel in Saadiyat Island, Abu Dhabi. Image Credit: Abdul Rahman/Gulf News

Abu Dhabi: The UAE will play a role in the next stage of space exploration as the industry moves from being government policy-driven to commercial development-driven, according to former American astronaut, Buzz Aldrin.

Aldrin, who was speaking at the Global Aerospace Summit in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday, was one of the first men to land on the moon, along with Neil Armstrong on the Apollo 11 mission in 1969.

Aldrin said that the Cold War had acted as a driver for space exploration between the end of World War II and 1990. Looking ahead, he said that the private sector will now take on that role.

He said the UAE is showing a growing commitment to the space industry and that the country will be involved in future projects and industry developments.

Taking the lead

Aldrin reiterated throughout his address that it is time for the commercial sector to take the lead on space exploration, with the goal of reaching mars. He said that NASA might not be the right agency to exploit space exploration. However, other US agencies and the commercial entities could be.

Globally, companies such as Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic and American-based SpaceX are investing in commercial space exploration.

Virgin Galactic is due to launch its first commercial spaceflight from Spaceport America in New Mexico later this year.

The US-based company has reportedly raised $80 million from passengers paying around $250,000 for a ticket.

SpaceX has previously sent rockets into space and has signed contracts with NASA.

Not just for the elite

Praising the work of companies such as Virgin Galactic, Aldrin said that space exploration needs to be not just something for the wealthy elite.

Abu Dhabi-based Aabar Investments is a minority stakeholder in Virgin Galactic and there are plans to build a spaceport in the emirate. Abu Dhabi government-backed Mubadala Development Company is investing in the aerospace industry through its dedicated division.

On Monday, Virgin Galactic chief executive, George T. Whitesides, said that there have been discussions for Mubadala to supply parts to the commercial spacecraft fleet.

Aldrin highlighted the importance of collaboration in the next stage of space exploration and said that companies and countries will need to be more open to sharing ideas and working together.

Earlier, Masood Sharif M. Mahmood, Yahsat chief executive, said that the UAE has nine indigenous satellites including future programmes and three homegrown satellite companies. He said Yahsat connects a billion people across the Middle East, North Africa and South West Asia.