Project Manager, Emirates Mars MissionMohammed bin Rashid Space Centre
For helping the United Arab Emirates reach Mars
As the new kid in the space race, the United Arab Emirates had a lot to prove. Yet despite the odds, it delivered—becoming the first nation in the Middle East to orbit Mars, the culmination of a seven-year project that required teams to thread the needle on a narrow launch window or face a two-year delay. But for project leader Omran Sharaf, the Hope probe mission represents bigger ambitions: inspiring the next generation of innovators in the UAE—and beyond—to use science and technology to address obstacles facing humanity.
“If you want to be competitive, if you want to be creative and innovative, you need to be out of your comfort zone, and a mission like this definitely pushed me and the whole team out of our comfort zone,” Sharaf told Gulf News.
Since helping launch the Hope project at the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre in 2014, he’s forged an ethos of innovative problem-solving among a team of young changemakers (who are, on average, 27 years old). Sharaf also put the focus on forging strong collaboration with global partners. Of the 450 people working on the July 2020 launch, 200 were from the UAE, 150 were from U.S. universities and 100 were subcontractors from other countries.
“The direction of the UAE government to us on the first day was: Don’t start from scratch,” he said. “Start where others ended. Collaborate with others; work with others.”
Hope began orbiting Mars in February, and Sharaf’s team has since captured stunning images of the Red Planet as well as gathered data to understand the climate dynamics of the planet’s lower atmosphere. Such information could help scientists understand elements of climate change, as many researchers believe Mars once had a climate similar to Earth.
“Reaching Mars is just 50 percent of the mission,” he said. “There’s the other 50 percent left now where we actually have to deliver the science and find new discoveries and share the data with the rest of the world and bring something back for humanity from this mission.”