Middle East surprise: UAE making giant leap into space with 2020 Mars mission

This computer-generated view depicts part of Mars at the boundary between darkness and daylight, with an area including Gale Crater beginning to catch morning light, in this handout image provided by NASA.Reuters/NASA/JPL

From the deserts of the Middle East, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has suddenly emerged as a space power following its announcement of an ambitious plan to launch an orbiting probe around Mars in 2020.

The Middle Eastern country announced earlier this week the establishment of its own space agency, the Space Research Centre.

The Space Research Centre—the first of its kind in the Middle East—will receive a funding of $27 million from the UAE government in a span of five years.

Aside from the research centre, the UAE unveiled a graduate degree program in Advanced Space Science at the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology and Orbital ATK Inc.

Dr. Mohamed Nasser Al Ahbabi, the Director General of the UAE Space Agency, also announced that his agency will select some students to travel to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in the United States.

These moves are all in line with the recent pronouncements from UAE's Prime Minister, His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, that the Middle Eastern nation will make space research a "primary national objective."

The UAE leader said his country wants to be a leader in space research and in building advanced scientific capabilities in the space domain.

Last year, UAE announced a plan called "Hope" to send a probe to Mars by 2020. This ambitious undertaking aims to produce the "first-ever truly global picture of the Martian atmosphere."

The Mars mission, in particular, seeks to map possible water sources on the Red Planet, and to understand its climate dynamics.

This week, Omran Sharaf, project manager of Emirates Mars Mission, said his country will establish a data centre to be able to share findings made by the "Hope" Mars Mission to other academic institutions and space agencies across the world.