Europe’s first international space station commander inspires Emirati youth on space exploration

24 November 2016

Frank de Winne, the Belgian astronaut, led a university roadshow in the UAE this week as part of Next Gen Space Initiative and the UAE’s first Belgian Week. The Next Gen initiative, designed to educate and inspire youth on space, is supporting the build-up campaign towards the Global Space Congress, which will be held in the UAE capital on January 31 to February 1. This week’s roadshow was organised by the Belgian Embassy and the Belgian Business council in collaboration with the UAE Space Agency.

As a guest of Honour to the first Belgian Week, Frank delivered a number of presentations to Emirati youth on his personal experiences in space and on spending six months in low Earth orbit as part of efforts to encourage youth to learn more about space exploration and science.

Frank, who became Europe’s first commander of the International Space Station, delivered fascinating insights to packed audiences of students and industry representatives at Zayed University in Dubai and the University of Sharjah. The students were given the opportunity to quiz Frank, who now heads the European Astronaut Centre in Cologne, Germany on a range of topics regarding developments in the space industry and what it is like to be an astronaut.

UAE Space Agency Director General H.E Dr. Mohammed Al Ahbabi commented: “It is a pleasure to welcome Frank De Winne to the UAE and it is great to hear how inspired the students are from hearing about his time in space. His visit helps us in our work towards developing the space sector in the UAE and helping our youth learn more about the opportunities available. In January we will welcome the world’s space leaders in our capital for the first Global Space Congress and this week has been a great chance to raise awareness on this.”

“We owe the Belgian Embassy in the UAE a great deal of appreciation for facilitating Frank de Winne’s involvement in the Road Show which provides a forum to inspire local Emirati engineers, complementing the UAE Space Agency’s primary mission to encourage UAE nationals to consider space and satellite sector careers,” explained Sheikha Al Maskari, Chief Innovation Officer at the UAE Space Agency.

“We are happy to have the Belgian Astronaut Frank De Winne as the guest of honour for this 1st Belgian Week in the UAE and we look forward to reinforcing the relationship between the UAE and Belgium. The main focus of the week is the Space-related Technology.  We are proud to join forces with the UAE Space Agency and connect the youths from our two countries.” Says H.E. Dominique Mineur, The Ambassador of Belgium to the UAE.

Frank de Winne praised the efforts of the UAE in joining the international space community’s promotion of space exploration and contributions to the global scientific community.

“The inclusion of space in the seven strategic sectors of the UAE’s National Innovation Strategy is a clear indication of the country’s determination to play a strong contributory role in global development,” Says Frank De Winne “The UAE Space Agency is doing much to promote the study of science, technology, engineering and mathematics which will create critical thinkers, spread science literacy and enable a whole new generation of innovators to develop the products that will grow and sustain the future worldwide economy. I hope my experience will contribute to inspiring UAE nationals that this sector is one where the opportunities for making a mark as a global citizen and leaving a legacy for mankind are of great potential.”

The Global Space Congress, which is held under the patronage of HH Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai in association with the UAE Space Agency, will take place at the St Regis Hotel on Saadiyat Island.  It will feature a Youth Lecture that will be presented by global space leaders, celebrating the opportunities the sector brings and outlining the potential continued investment it will produce for the UAE, the GCC and the wider world. It is open to the public and will inspire the UAE population, especially young nationals and their parents, to take an active interest in space to promote the importance of STEM education and the vision of the country’s leadership.

“During those days UAE students and young professionals will be able to find out about the broad range of opportunities in the space sector,” said Nick Webb, Managing Director of Streamline Marketing Group, the event’s organiser. “It is an essential place to be. For those who are already pursuing a career in the space industry, there’s no better place to gain exposure to the sector’s global leaders.”