Fifteen-year-old Mohammad Al Hosani (left) and nine-year-old Ali Mohammad Al Bastaki (centre) study a model of a rocket at the inaugural ceremony of Space & Rocketry Academy Camp in Dubai. Image Credit: Clint Egbert/Gulf News

Dubai: The UAE’s ambitious plan to build a city on Mars will no doubt succeed as the country is laying the groundwork for this hundred-year target as early as now, a senior Nasa expert said.

The UAE in 2017 launched its plans to establish the first inhabitable human settlement on Mars by 2117. The plan is part of the UAE’s diversification plans that support the creation of a knowledge-based economy.

“It’s really an ambitious plan but big dreams are important to have. I have no doubt,” Dr Jim Rice, Mars Exploration Rover geology team leader from Nasa, told Gulf News on the sidelines of the inauguration of the Space and Rocketry Academy Camp in Dubai.

Dr Rice said it is difficult to predict when humans will actually be able to live on Mars. He said he had earlier hoped the milestone would come about in his lifetime. “Even if it doesn’t happen exactly at the timeframe we’re talking about, it sets you on a course and you learn a lot in the process. I always tell people, eventually, we’re going to live on Mars. It’s going to happen but it’s not going to be easy. Big things that are worth the while take work.”

An astrogeologist with more than 30 years research experience in the exploration of the moon and Mars, Dr Rice is in the UAE to share his experiences with around 150 youths to inspire and motivate them to pursue a career in the space sector in the future.

The five-week space camp follows the Nasa curriculum and is organised by Compass International in collaboration with the UAE Space Agency. It allows youngsters aged 9 to 18 to design a mission to Mars, including the launch system, transit vehicle, lander and robotic vehicles and a Mars base. Participants will also design and build model rockets, and learn about the UAE space programme.

Shaikha Al Maskari, Chief Innovation Officer at the UAE Space Agency, said the space camp is key to preparing the next generation of scientists, engineers and astronauts right here in the UAE.

“We’ve been sending children on camps since we started. We realised that some children don’t have the opportunity of going abroad. So we decided, being part of the government of the UAE that likes doing things for people, we’re going to bring the camps to their doorstep,” Al Maskari said.

Lissy Donald from Compass International said the space camp will eventually have space simulations, with the necessary infrastructure. For now, participants will receive in-depth knowledge based on actual experience of scientists about living and working in space.

Hoping to work in the space sector when he grows up, Emirati student Mohammad Al Hosani, 15, is excited about getting to design and build his first rocket at the camp.

“My interest in space began when I was eight after watching a movie about two kids who opened a book that transported them to space. I would love to build rockets and know more about space,” the Abu Dhabi resident said.

Abriana Donald, 12, another participant, was one of the early birds at the camp. The seventh grader said: “Space is more fun and exciting. You can discover new things. I would like to become a vet but I’d like to work in space also.”

WHAT: Space and Rocketry Camp
WHEN: July 15 to August 23
WHERE: Lapita Hotel, Dubai Parks and Resorts