The UAE’s first interplanetary mission is being led by the country’s first ever female minister of State for Advanced Technology. Sarah al-Amiri, who graduated from the American University of Sharjah where she studied computer science, has been for the past six years, charging the campaign to put the country’s spacecraft, named “al-Amal” (which means, ‘Hope’) to Mars, in a collaborative effort between several US based colleges.
The US colleges include University of California, Berkeley, Arizona State University, and
University of Colorado Boulder, where the orbiter was built.
A total of 75 Emiratis (eight of them women), worked on the project set to launch next week. The team has a higher proportion of female workers than the country’s national average. According to Nature, women comprise 34% of the mission team and 80% of its science team. The Emirati workforce is just 28% female.
This is the first time the United Arab Emirates is sending a spacecraft to Mars. Previously, the country had only ever launched satellites into the Earth’s orbit. The mission seeks to collect more information about the red planet, tracking its weather and climate through a pod which will initially spent its first year circling the planet. The orbiter will take roughly 7 (earth) months to reach Mars.
Part of al-Amiri’s role as minister of State for Advanced Technology is “enhancing the contributions of advanced sciences to the development of UAE and its economy.”
In her relatively short career she has done many things. In 2016, she was appointed the head of the Emirates Science Council. In 2017, she was head hunted to lead the new ministerial role for developing advanced sciences. And earlier this month, al-Amiri spoke to British scientific journal Nature where she describes her upcoming mission.
“We’re a new country that is late to the competition in the global perspective,” she said. “It’s natural for people to think this was crazy.”
“Science to me is the most international form of collaboration,” said al-Amiri. “It is limitless, it is borderless and it is run by the passions of individuals for the benefit of human understanding.”
This week, she explained the origins for the name of the craft to Deutsche Welle.
“The mission is called ‘hope’ because we are contributing to the global understanding of a planet,” she said. “We are going above and beyond the turmoil that is now defining our region and becoming positive contributors to science.”
al-Amiri told the official Emirates News Agency on Monday, “When you talk about the UAE’s economy in the next 30 years, one of its foundations is science and technology because you want to have an economy based on knowledge — knowledge of production, utilisation of knowledge and creating intangible assets.”
“That’s how the most sustainable economies work around the world,” she said.