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Young People in the Middle East: Making a Difference

Over the next hundred years, space could become more accessible to people than ever before — and not just the preserve of the few and the super rich. For that to happen, young people across the world will have to contribute significantly. We talk to some more young people about their aspirations and how they see a space-based future.

The Middle East is a hive of activity as countries in the region aim to be the biggest and the best in a lot of things. Over the last few years, countries such as the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Saudi Arabia, and Qatar, (to name but three) have aggressively looked to boost their space and satellite capabilities. We talk to some young people in the region involved in the space industry.

Fatema Alayyan

Fatema Alayyan is 24 years old and admits she never thought about the space industry until her junior year at university, when she heard about the MeznSat project (a cubesat project which involved students from the American University of Ras Al Khaimah (AURAK) and Khalifa University. Initially Alayyan’s perception of the project was far from the truth. She heard others talking about the project and how the project was different and difficult. “Initially, I didn’t really think that it’s a real satellite project and it’s going to space. When I met the supervisor, he was literally scaring me about how serious the project is. It made me want to be involved with it. After I got into this project, I became so excited to learn more about space industry, ending up to choose it as a career path that I’d like to pursue after graduation and here I am looking for a job in space industry,” Alayyan says.

Alayyan believes the space industry needs creativity and renewable minds and that young people are always the fresh source of creativity and energy in every society. “Young people are always exposed to the daily changes of technology and tend to be faster reacting towards any changes they may face,” she says.

In terms of what she likes about working in the space industry, Alayyan says that she likes the learning process of keeping up. “Due to the nature of the space industry there are many good events that are being held on a yearly basis — conferences, congresses and project presentations, etc. Finally, this industry has been improving so it provides a place for all kinds of scientists, engineers, and anybody who is willing to work hard.”

Alayyan could be one of those people who helps share the future of the space industry in the Middle East. She believes the future is quite bright for the space industry.

“People are becoming more exposed to the industry and young people are being involved in space projects. We can imagine the world is becoming more space aware,” she says. “However, we need to do a lot of work when it comes to workshops, education, trips and more creative projects to attract young people to the space industry. Due to their knowledge and exposure to internet and technology, I think Millennials/Generation Z have so many talents and creativity to invest.”

Ahmed Al Menhali

Ahmed Al Menhali is 25 years old and an engineer of spacecraft systems at Yahsat. Al Menhali says he chose the satellite industry because he believes “space is the future.” He points to the fact that the UAE aims to be among the top countries in the space industry and to accomplish the first ever-Arab mission to Mars. “We as Emiratis should support it with everything we can offer. In addition, there are serious investments in the space industry. $360 billion is the value of the global space industry. The UAE’s space related investments exceeds 22 billion AED with an estimated growth of 10 percent per year. Finally, space makes the impossible possible. A person could go from the Dubai to London in 29 minutes through suborbital trips. Helium-3, which is nonexistent here on Earth, but the moon has enough of it to satisfy human energy needs for up to 10,000 years.”

When looking at the future, Al Menhali cites Thomas Frey, an American futurist, as an example of how the space industry could develop over the next 20 years. “According to his 20 Common Jobs in 2040 Article, 10 percent of the common jobs expected in 2040 are related to space. Currently, the only obstacle that stands between us and a space-based society is the expensiveness of space. The International Space Station (ISS) is the most expensive object ever built and its cost is equal to $160 billion. The average cost of launching a single kilogram to space is $18,500 and to put things into perspective, sending a human to space would roughly cost $1.3 million for his/her weight only,” Al Menhali says.

He believes if these financial challenges associated with space are not confronted and resolved then the impact on the human race will be severe as humanity will be draining the resources we have on Earth to grasp the resources that are unique to space. On the other hand, if these challenges are resolved, Al Menhali believes space will be a crucial part and element of peoples’ lives like phones are today. Tourism in space will be like tourism in any other country and mining moons and other planets will be like mining caves on Earth, according to Al Menhali.

In terms of attracting more young people to space, Al Menhali adds, “I would simply say the UAE needs to do more of what it has done or what it is doing. Examples of what our country has done includes, teaching space in school, funding university projects such as the Space Systems and Technology Master’s concentration in Khalifa University (founded jointly by Yahsat, Northrop Grumman and Khalifa University) and allowing the young students to learn from Hazza Al Mansouri’s (the first person from the UAE to go to space) experience in space.”

Working in the space industry is not without challenges. “The worst things about working in the space industry are that I won’t be able to keep up with everything that is related to space in terms of both technology and knowledge; won’t be able to witness the great achievements that awaits in the future like the UAE colonizing Mars in year 2117; and the last thing that I don’t like is how underrated and less popular the industry is but this will change with time,” says Al Menhali.

Ahmed Al Shaer

Ahmed Al Shaer is 25 years old and another engineer of spacecraft systems at Yahsat. He studied at the American University of Sharjah), and was nominated by the head of computer engineering to play a role in the student-led development of a nanosatellite project, “Nayif-1.” Al Shaer admits he felt very overwhelmed and very excited at the thought that his work could end up in space. “Over time, as I worked on Nayif-1 and dealt with the steep learning curve that hits all newcomers into the field, I felt myself finally begin to grasp the underlying concepts and technologies that bring a satellite project together. And I loved it,” he says. “This was a few years ago and looking back at Nayif-1 and comparing that project to the projects Yahsat was involved with at the time, I saw an opportunity to grow my knowledge and skillset by being able to work on more complex projects both at the nanosatellite level and on the more traditional geostationary level. I still enjoy software development on a more personal level and I like to go back to my computer engineering days from time-to-time, but the passion and wonder of space as well as the opportunity to do great things with my life’s work pushed me in the direction of the space.”

However, when asked to be a futurist, Al Shaer expects a bigger impact to perhaps come in aviation rather than space. He explains, “Currently, flying from a place like Los Angeles to Abu Dhabi is a long and exhausting process taking about sixteen hours. Not fun if you’re in economy class. My feeling, especially from a company like Virgin Galactic, is that long flights to San Francisco from Abu Dhabi will be replaced with a much shorter flight with the added entertainment of a few minutes of zero-gravity with airplanes becoming short-distance sub-six-hour affairs. Not to be grim, but this would be similar to how a ballistic missile works. Most companies today are focused on getting humans to space but I think the real goal should be using space to get people to other faraway countries faster. This could also apply to cargo planes,” he says.

Over the past year, there has been much talk about the development of the lunar economy. Al Shaer pinpoints one potential industry that could develop in the future. He says, “Moon mining for precious metals (is an industry that I think could develop). A company will operate the flight to and from the moon. A company will pay for an allotment of physical space on the flight as well as their mining equipment (likely man-operated machines), and the resources will be consumed by a variety of industries here on Earth. Different techniques would need to be developed for different types of raw materials. I can’t elaborate on this too much as I haven’t thought it completely through but I can see some form of this business being within the realm of possibility many years from now,” he says.

Abdularahman Hasan Abunada

Abdularahman Hasan Abunada is 24 years old and a senior electrical engineering student at Qatar University. With Qatar looking to develop a national space capability, its future will rest in the hands of students like Abunada. He admits as an electrical engineering student, he sees that the space industry is doing a lot for communication engineering, and cites this as the most important reason for him to work in this field. He also thinks that the space industry is a very good environment for the physicists to work in. “They can use the space environment to solve, proof, and apply physics theories and cooperate with other engineers in the field.” However, there are many challenges when working in this area. “I see that the space environment is dangerous, and many constraints should be considered in the design and implementation process. Also, mistakes are not allowed at all, as it might cause to disaster and also losing billions of dollars. Finally, there is complex science involved in the field, which may lead to design mistakes especially with beginner engineers like me,” says Abunada.

Abunada admits that the space industry is expanding rapidly. Things could change significantly over the next 20 years. “For example, NASA just succeeded in taking the first picture for the black hole this year 2019, so we might be able to discover some new objects in the space,” he says. “We also might be able to implement a Wi-Fi network at the space station, where the people there can access the internet and it is connected to the internet. I think also we could reduce the dependency on cellular and depend more on satellites.”

In terms of whether the industry has been slow to move and needs some kind of energy shot, Abunada believes in terms of power generation, the industry has been slow to change. He adds, “This field is not growing very fast, and if we look at the satellites, we see that one of the main issues is that the power sources. Satellites will be out of the service once the fuel inside it finishes. This issue still exists nowadays, and an example of an issue we should be trying to address.”

Abunada believes the space industry is more challenging than many other industries, and there are many barriers for young people looking to join the industry. Improving the perception of the industry is something he believes could attract more people to the industry. He says, “Colleges around the world should start think about this issue and try to build a better and stronger base for students, so they will teach all the required knowledge about the space field. In addition to this, the industry should find new ways to present the exciting side of the space industry instead of the current picture which is more presenting the space sector as one of the most difficult industries to work in.” VS