Riyadh (Rahnuma): The future of space travel in the Arab world looks bright, especially after the successful journey of the UAE astronaut Hazza Al-Mansouri, who came back from an eight-day space mission on Oct. 3.
“There is a renewed excitement in the private sector today (for space),” said astronaut Terry Virts speaking at the panel discussion “Future of Space Exploration” moderated by Arab News Editor-in-Chief Faisal Abbas at the Future Investment Initiative 2019 (FII) in Riyadh.
“Of all the things that people do, there is one thing that can unite us, exploration,” Virts added.
On long term investments, Mohammed Al-Ahbabi, the director-general of UAE Space Agency, said the exploration of space was a fruitful one with high returns in the long run.
“It has been said that if you put one dollar into space as investment, you get $12–13 back in the long term – so space has become a significant contributor to the long-term economy.”
Virts’s space mission might have cost $1 billion, but that money was spent on the wages of those who stayed on Earth.
“We all share the same sky — it doesn’t matter which continent you’re from, we all look up and see the same moon. It unites and excites us, and it’s a great way to motivate our youth,” said Virts.
Being an astronaut has its perks worldwide as “there is excitement everywhere I go,” he said, recalling how even in China little children look up to him and are excited by his experiences.
When Virts spoke at the White House last year, he mingled with politicians from both Houses.
He said Vice President Mike Pence gave the most remarkable quote: “Getting to Mars doesn’t depend on the rocket science, it depends on the political science.”
A Mars mission will take many years to complete, and will see those involved take a one way ticket to the red planet — they won’t be coming back.
Mars is no easy task, he said. “It is such a big program that requires international cooperation to come up with a vision and a goal and we stick to it and don’t change it every four years. Mars is not something you can do easily or quickly, you need to keep it together.”
Al-Ahbabi said there were already plans for a mission to be launched in 2020, where a space craft will orbit the Mars atmosphere.
“We try to inspire young people to realize this is possible. The project is on track to leave from Japan next year.”
He said there was already a lot being learned from the project, which has also seen collaborations with universities.
He said they continued to look at the big question: is there water on Mars? But more importantly is there life up there?
On the subject of space tourism Virts said it would cost approximately $250,000 for one trip.
He said that people such as Elon Musk were good for these ventures.
“I don’t think that we will have much success without people like him. These guys innovate quickly and when they make a mistake they fix it quickly. They do things that frankly governments aren’t able to do.”
However, he remarked on the importance on a dual partnership between the public and private sector, which he said was key to the future of its success.
When Abbas asked for them to share their final thoughts, Al-Ahbabi said, “A smaller role for governments and a bigger role for the private sector.”
Virts said that “we are discovering new planets every day,” but the stars are “really, really far away and it will take a long time before we get there.”