The United Arab Emirates just announced that it’s setting up a Space Agency – and it plans to send an unmanned probe to Mars by 2021. The UAE Space Agency will capitalize on the country’s strong aerospace technologies sector, which already exceeds AED 20 billion ($5.4 billion).

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The announcement was made last Wednesday by UAE President His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan. The Space Agency will be assigned to coordinate the country’s rapidly expanding space technology sector and supervise the Mars mission. The UAE considers the development of the sector one of the nation’s key long-term economic objectives. In making the announcement, His Highness Sheikh Khalifa stated: “The new probe to Mars represents our Arab and Muslim world entering to the era of space exploration. We will prove that we are capable of delivering new scientific contributions to humanity. The UAE’s purpose is to build Emirati technical and intellectual capabilities in the fields of aerospace and space exploration and to enter the space industry and to make use of space technology in a way that enhances the country’s development plans.” His Highness added: “Our target is joining the leading industrialized countries in the field of space sciences by 2021.”

Related: India Successfully Launches First Mission to Mars

So far, UAE investment in space technologies includes the satellite data and TV broadcast company Al Yah Satellite Communications, the mobile satellite communication company Thuraya Satellite Telecommunications, and Earth mapping and observation system Dubai Sat. UAE Vice President, Prime Minister, and Ruler of Dubai His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum noted, “We chose the epic challenge of reaching Mars because epic challenges inspire us and motivate us. The moment we stop taking on such challenges is the moment we stop moving forward.”

In 1998, Egypt was first African or Middle Eastern country to launch its own satellite. The US, the former USSR and the European Space Agency have all successfully executed Mars missions, and Indian and US missions are currently en route. Elon Musk also recently expressed hope that his company SpaceX would be able to complete a manned mission to the Red Planet for NASA by 2024.

Via The Verge and

Screengrabs by UAE Gov on YouTube