United Arab Emirates Investing Heavily in Space and STEM
Five months later, in February 2021, UAE was only the fifth country to reach Mars when its “Hope” probe entered the Red Planet’s orbit. Notably, women made up 34 percent of the mission’s team, of which 80 percent of the scientists were female. And just this month, NASA announced that a 27-year-old mechanical engineering graduate, Nora al-Matrooshi, will join its 2021 U.S. Astronaut Candidate Class; she is the first Arab woman to train as an astronaut and an example of space exploration pushing UAE to diversify its economic, educational, and cooperative priorities.
Traditionally, UAE’s economy has centered around hydrocarbon exports and tourism, but these meaningful investments and diversification toward space exploration are attracting international talent and industry partnerships. National education initiatives are following suit, and, as a 2020 University College of London report highlights, five UAE universities have launched new science undergraduate courses, have boosted enrollments, and the Mars mission outreach and educational programs have reached roughly 50,000 Emirati students and 1,000 teachers.
More broadly, in terms of research and development (R&D), UAE has increased its spending from 0.5 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP) in 2011 to 1.3 percent in 2018 and is on track to reach 1.5 percent this year. Plans for a “Mars Science City” outside Dubai, at 1.9 million square feet and projected to cost around $200 million USD, are further signals to the global STEM community that UAE is positioning itself as a new leader in space exploration.