The world has set its sights on Mars — not just to visit, but to stay. Private organizations and governments have made it their mission to get to the Red Planet, and the United Arab Emirates wants to be first. The UAE said it planned to build the first city on Mars in 100 years.
Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Emir of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammad bin Rashid Al Maktoum, announced the plan, dubbed Mars 2117, Tuesday.
“We aspire to great things, so my brother Mohammed bin Zayed [the first president of the UAE and crown prince of Abu Dhabi] and I today decided the UAE will join the global effort to send humans to Mars,” said Al Maktoum.
The UAE’s space agency is a fledgling venture, having been founded in only 2014. But the nation has no shortage of ambition.
“Mars 2117 is a seed we are sowing today to reap the fruit of new generations led by a passion for science and advancing human knowledge,” said Al Maktoum. Though he didn’t detail the specifics of the plan, he said it would involve collaboration between governments and other organizations. The UAE planned to send a spacecraft named Hope into orbit around Mars in 2021 as a first step in the venture.
The UAE’s vision for its “mini city” isn’t as small as some might imagine.
“The city is roughly the size of Chicago. It has a population of 600,000,” Saeed Al Gergawi, manager of the scientific and research committee of the World Government Summit held in Dubai, told CNBC Monday. Gergawi said governments needed to come together and that the United Nations must be involved in order for the venture to be successful.
Space exploration has increasingly turned toward privatization in the race to Mars. Mars One, a private venture founded in 2011 by Dutch entrepreneur Bas Lansdorp, has aimed to establish a permanent human settlement on Mars by 2032. Elon Musk, billionaire entrepreneur and founder of SpaceX, announced his own plan to colonize Mars using unique, sophisticated technology called the SpaceX Interplanetary Transport System.
But before anybody can live on Mars, humanity must first make their way to the Red Planet. The U.S. was still the only country that has landed a spacecraft on Mars, despite attempts by Russia and Europe. Former President Barack Obama planned for a Mars mission long before the UAEs 2117 goal, announcing last year a “clear goal” to send humans to Mars by the 2030s.
“Someday, I hope to hoist my own grandchildren onto my shoulders. We’ll look to the stars in wonder, as humans have since the beginning of time,” he wrote in an op-ed. “But instead of eagerly awaiting the return of our intrepid explorers, we know that because of the choices we make now, they’ve gone to space not just to visit, but to stay – and in doing so, to make our lives better here on earth.”