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Politics

UAE looks to diversify oil-dependent economy with Mars mission

Knowledge-based economy seen as key as global decarbonization gains traction

A man in Dubai records the launch broadcast of the UAE's Mars mission from Japan on July 20.   © Reuters

DUBAI -- The United Arab Emirates launched the Arab world's first Mars mission on Monday, using an H2A rocket made by Japan's Mitsubishi Heavy Industries.

The Mars satellite explorer, named Hope, will take about 200 days to reach the planet, after which it will enter orbit and collect scientific data about Mars' atmosphere.

The satellite, which took off from Kagoshima Prefecture in Japan, mostly contains U.S. technology.

Sultan Al Neyadi, one of the UAE's first astronauts, told Nikkei that "This is a milestone, not only for the nation but also for the Arab world to advance its economy based on innovation and technology."

By 2021, when Hope starts to orbit Mars, the UAE will celebrate its 50th anniversary. A country founded just fifty years ago in the desert also wants to construct a colony on Mars by 2117.

One of the overall goals of the mission is to elevate the country's scientific and technological capabilities, diversifying the economy away from oil revenue. The country's leaders are keen to build a knowledge-based economy, and the Hope mission is part of that agenda.

Sultan Al Neyadi, one of the UAE's first astronauts, says the mission marks a "milestone" for the Arab world.

Though gross domestic product of the UAE exceeds $40,000 per capita -- at least the equivalent of many advanced economies -- demand for oil may end soon as global decarbonization efforts accelerate.

The UAE depends heavily on foreign labor. This has prompted better education with the aim of creating a workforce that is less dependent on outside talent.

Moreover, the pandemic has rocked the country's economy, crashing both oil prices and tourist numbers.

Other oil-rich Persian Gulf countries are in similar straits. According to the International Monetary Fund, Gulf economies are expected to contract 7% in 2020. This is another wake-up call for the UAE, which has already recognized an impending post-oil world economy and is investing in other sectors.

Abu Dhabi's diversification strategy is not confined to outer space. More down-to-earth endeavors can be seen in tourism, entertainment and clean energy. The government is building its first nuclear power plant called Al Barakah, built in partnership with Korea Electric Power Corporation and other Korean companies.

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