Shelli Brunswick Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: It is increasingly becoming a possibility that people might actually be able to vacation on Mars.

Shelli Brunswick, Chief Operating Officer of Colorado-based Space Foundation, who was one of the speakers at the recently held 18th Global Women in Leadership Economic Forum held in Dubai told Gulf News that the Canadian-American business tycoon Elon Musk’s initiative to take people to Mars is not an exaggeration.

“Elon Musk takes his initiative very seriously,” she said in an email interview. “Certainly a healthy lifestyle will be included in any sort of screening or selection process, but it is not an exaggeration to say that we will be sending people to Mars at some point in the future.”

The space is not off-limits any more, added Brunswick.

“There is very real progress in the areas of commercial space exploration and ‘space tourism’ and the economic incentives are significant. There have already been a select few ‘ordinary people’ who could afford to spend time in low Earth orbit,” she said.

Referring to Anousheh Ansari, the Iranian-American business-person who became in 2006 the first female private space traveller, Brunchwick added, “Indicators suggest that this trend will continue, and as space travel becomes more efficient and affordable, it will be open to more and more people. However, this will take some time.”

Space is open for both men and women alike, said Brunswick. Contrary to the perception that space exploration has been a male domain and mostly limited to men, Brunswick said, “By ‘limited to men’ we believe you are referring to astronauts. If that’s the case, then no, there have been well over 60 women in space, starting with Valentina Tereshkova of the Soviet Union, the first woman in space aboard Vostok 6 in 1963.”

“Many women were involved with Nasa’s Apollo program to land humans on the Moon, such as Margaret Hamilton, who led software development for the flight computers. Other women worked as engineers, mathematicians and physicists. In later years, women piloted spacecraft and commanded missions to space. Space is by no means discriminatory on the basis of gender.”

A new film, ‘Hidden Figures’ expected to be released before the end of the year documents the fact that women have been involved in space exploration since the very beginning. It tells the story of four women who were responsible for calculating the trajectory for Neil Armstrong’s 1969 Apollo 11 flight to the moon and other flights.

So far, scientific studies of the space led to the discovery of water on other plants, and water is the major requirement for most life. Yet, no life form of any kind has been found, she said.

But interestingly, “When you consider how many hundreds of billions of stars there are in our Milky Way galaxy, and most of them have planets, and that there are about 2 trillion galaxies in the observable universe, the chances are that there is life out there somewhere. If we do discover life, even in our own Solar System, however, it will more than likely be something small, such as bacteria or a virus,” said Brunswick.

Fact file

Space Foundation, which was founded in 1983, is a non-profit leader in space awareness activities, education programmes and major industry events, including annual Space symposium, according to foundation’s website. It engages more than 40 countries around the globe, to include Europe, the Middle East, Asia, South America and Africa. Areas of cooperation include education outreach, space policy issues and space commerce.

Space Foundation has “an ongoing relationship with the UAE, including frequent visits and exchanges within the UAE and at our internationally renowned Space Symposium, held every year in Colorado Springs, Colorado, in the United States,” said Brunswick.

Apart from its routinely-working relationship with Mohammad Bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC), the Space Foundation has hosted around 30 interns from UAE’s government space program or Thuraya and Yahsat programmes, helping them learn about the structure of our STEM education programmes, she added.

Thuraya is the Telecommunications Company, and Yahsat is Al Yah Satellite Communications Company (Yahsat).

Dr. Khalifa Al Romaithi, Chairman, UAE Space Agency, and Dr Mohammad Al Ahbabi, Director-General, UAE Space Agency, have led delegations for the past three years to the Space Symposium. Dr. Al Ahbabi has spoken at the symposium on Head of Space Agency panel.