“You can see Dubai’s manmade islands — The Palm and The World — very clearly from space, but you cannot see the Wall of China — it’s a myth,” Colonel Chris Hadfield, the first and only Canadian to ever command a spaceship, told Gulf News during his visit to Dubai on Tuesday.
Colonel Hadfield, who has 21 years of experience as an astronaut and has completed three space flights, was invited to the UAE by General Shaikh Mohammad Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, to speak at his Ramadan Majlis.
During his interview with Gulf News, the astronaut shared his expertise and insights on what are the possible outcomes of the UAE’s decision to send a manmade probe to Mars by 2021 and establish the UAE Space Agency.
The man, who is currently on the five dollar Canadian bill, said the establishment of the UAE space agency can lead to a multi-billion dollar aerospace industry.
Giving Canada’s early space experience as an example, he said: “Our first satellite was humble; it was just a small satellite, but the technologies we invented for it led to space robotics, which led to the huge arm [Canadarm] that is on the space station right now, which then lead to the robotics that we use in medical procedures. Now there is a NeuroArm used for brain surgery in Canada.”
Col Hadfield said he never thought that when the space agency was formed that there will be significant inventions and results that can lead to a multi-billion dollar industry in Canada, adding that the UAE can follow his country’s model to some degree.
Establishing the UAE space agency will also open doors to future missions, Col Hadfield said.
“We will be setting up permanent bases on the moon. It is probably 25 years away, but when the time comes, only countries that have developed and trained their people and invented the technology can take part. Think of the first person from the UAE who is going to fly in space and walk on the moon.”
Col Hadfield said the UAE has given itself a complex and monumental task of successfully sending a robot to mars on a seven-year scale.
“It is a short time, but it is possible. We normally do things on trial and error but they won’t have time for error. But the beautiful part of that is the possibility of cooperating internationally and of course in the UAE there has been lots of evidence of international cooperation.”
The astronaut said international collaboration is important for this challenge, as the international experts can help avoid going through the errors that they have already experienced.
Although international collaboration is important, he said fostering indigenous capabilities allows for a bigger platform for the future, so the UAE must slowly but incrementally challenge the universities here and the manufacturing base to build up and increase capabilities.
“It is important so that five years from now, when the UAE space agency says it would like to put a rover on the moon or drill to see if there is water or whatever, they would have started to build the expertise so they don’t have to rely on other countries.”
Col Hadfield commended the UAE leaderships for thinking of the long term and the future.
“Think of the impact, think of the inspiration and the way that people will choose to make decisions with their lives, with that type of programme. The UAE is in front of the pack, so any kid growing up anywhere around this area who is interested in being an astronaut or working in space, they are going to look here because of the programme.”
The colonel advised the UAE to look into building the capabilities within the UAE by making the universities and industries respond to the challenge as well as bringing and making the the expertise. He also said increasing the technical and creative capability of the research development that exists already and continue on building on it is important.
Source: Gulf News