Abu Dhabi: The UAE may soon study the viability of sending astronauts to space, a top official said in the capital on Tuesday.

“While it has not been studied yet, sending an astronaut into space would fall within the bounds of our national space policy,” Khalid Al Hashemi, director of space missions at the UAE Space Agency, said.

This would be a further incentive to attract young Emirati minds towards studying Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), one of the main goals of the UAE’s space exploration and investment initiatives, he added.

Al Hashemi was speaking in a panel discussion on the opening day of the Global Space Congress in Abu Dhabi.

Samer Halawi, chief executive officer at mobile satellite phone provider, Thuraya, highlighted the need for young minds to drive innovation in the space sector.

“Over the last two decades, innovation in the industry has been quite limited. We need risk-takers to push for new ideas and technologies, and young people are more willing to take these risks,” Halawi explained.

To that end, the UAE’s Hope probe to Mars is expected to generate interest in the space sector, which had previously focused mainly on services, said Dr Mohammad Al Ahbabi, director-general of the UAE Space Agency. The Agency is responsible for developing the country’s space industry.

“The Mars Mission constitutes space exploration, and this is still a new domain in our region. But not only are we confident that we will deliver on time, but that it will help our youth increase their knowledge and expertise in the industry,” Dr Al Ahbabi said.

The unmanned Mars Mission is expected to be launched by the UAE in 2020, and should reach the Red Planet by 2021, where it will study the atmosphere and climate.

Officials explained that such space exploration is necessary because it helps provide solutions to many on-the-ground applications.

“While it has been nearly 40 years since the last human went to the moon, Mars is now the new frontier. We have still not been able to answer questions about whether is, or has ever been, possible on Mars, which is why the UAE, US, China and India, are preparing missions to explore the planet. We now need to attract young people to explore the planet further,” said John-Yves Le Gall, president at the International Astronautical Federation, a space advocacy organisation.