The UAE will have its first Emirati astronaut by the end of the year. The astronaut will be titled, recruited and trained to be sent into space in 2021, announced officials on Tuesday.

Dr Mohammed Al Ahbabi, director-general of the UAE Space Agency, said that the UAE will continue the momentum of its space initiatives in 2017 through this year, especially when the nation will announce its very first astronaut, who will be sent to space in three years.

So far, more than 2,000 people aged 18 and above have applied for the programme, but by the end of the year, only four lucky winners will be announced.

“This project will select, train and sustain the first UAE national astronaut. But it is not just one astronaut, and this will not be done once – this will be a continuing programme.”

Dr Al Ahbabi said the UAE Space Agency aims at opening doors of opportunities and is thus working vigorously to improve the level of space awareness.

“The public will have more knowledge about space through this programme and we also encourage young people to think big.”

He said that in two months, there will be an evaluation process of the applicants. The applicants range from doctors to pilots and engineers, he said, adding that the top four will be selected before the end of the year.

“The more people submitting their applications, the more excitement will be generated. When you look at the spectrum of the applicants, it makes sense. We have applicants from pilots, engineers, doctors and elderly people, including those above 60 years old.”

“Yes, it is a load on us, but I think the idea is to maximise effort and awareness. This is a message and an indication about the level of knowledge and interest in science in the UAE.”

“The training will take two to three years and after that the first astronaut will be ready to be sent to the international space station in 2021,” added Dr Al Ahbabi. He pointed out that the four winners will each receive the title, ‘UAE Astronaut.’

“It is a full time job, they will take on various initiatives including science on earth, science in space and they will be our ambassadors in schools, where they will inspire young people.

“What’s unique about this programme is not just to send a visitor to space – it is a sustainable programme that will open doors for missions, including those to the moon and Mars. This is the first step in the UAE’s 100-year Mars programme.”

He said the programme is equal to a university degree and is run on the best practices, in the most effective ways.

“It is also very transparent, we don’t hide anything, every thing is out there. We are excited to have our first astronaut, and we are proud of what we are doing. We will continue to do our best to improve and inspire future generations,” added Dr Al Ahbabi.

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