The United Arab Emirates is moving at a very fast pace when it comes to everything related to Mars. First, they announced their plans of launching a Mars probe, then came the ambitious project of colonizing the Red Planet and now the country is planning to grow palm trees and lettuce on Mars.
One of the most significant features of the Dubai Airshow is the space sector. It includes several exhibitions, conferences and speakers that include former Nasa Apollo 15 astronaut, Al Worden. However, even before a UAE Mars probe takes off in 2020 from Japan, UAE has already started working in partnership with Mitsubishi Heavy Industries. The Gulf state announced its space agriculture intentions during the show.
"There are similarities between Mars and the desert. The landscape of the UAE, the soil, are similar," said Rashid Al Zaadi, the senior strategic planner at the UAE Space Agency, reported BBC. So, that is why the UAE has decided to infuse money into two research projects - growing date palms, and growing lettuces, tomatoes, and strawberries on the surface of Mars. "Well, when we get there, we'll have to eat," said Al Zaadi.
As per the report, the country went ahead with the choice of date palm because of its symbolic links with the region, while the other three plants were selected because scientists have already established the fact that they might grow on Mars, Al Zaadi said.
Although the entire plan may sound a bit farfetched, there lies a significant economic reason behind it. The UAE, specifically Dubai and Abu Dhabi, are preparing their economy for the end of the oil era. They started off with a huge expansion of tourism and airlines, and the services and engineering associated with these fields. Now the country has aligned its interests towards science and hi-tech sectors.
Since the inception of the UAE Space Agency in 2014, the Gulf state has invested more than $5.4 billion in its Mars project alone, stated the report. The project includes the Mars probe, a final full-scale mock-up, which was unveiled at the Dubai Airshow.
The UAE has also started developing its Mars Science City, a centre that would be dedicated to the studies related to the colonization of the planet. The facility will be responsible for the investigation of Mars' food, water and energy needs.
According to Apollo 15 command module pilot Al Worden, the efforts by UAE will require international cooperation. "The scale of the technological challenge will be too much for one country," said Worden.
Whether the mission takes off or not, the country would at least create a new group of scientists in the Gulf, who would have the expertise to grow a lot more fruit and vegetables in the desert.