When did space first interest you?
I have always been interested in space as far as I can remember. I used to read science books for kids as a child and find articles related to space in magazines and newspapers wherever I could. I used to be an avid stargazer — I started with a binocular in the beginning, and then with a 3 inch telescope which I used for several years. The interest continues till date.
Were you interested in sci-fi as a child?
I read very little science fiction as a child. I mostly read science books for children and tried to understand basic science from any source I could find.
What interested you to become an astrobiologist?
I find the disconnect between astronomy and biology very strange. As physicists we try to explain all observed phenomena using basic laws of physics. However, no such laws exist to date for biology. Also, we look at the universe around us in evolutionary terms — everything started with the big bang, stars and planets formed etc., but the emergence of life is a mystery. How do we make sense of life in an astrophysical context? The pursuit of this question led me to study astrobiology.
What are some of your notable achievements/discoveries?
My work has improved our understanding of how the harsh energetic radiation from space impacts planets, how it impacts life on Earth and the possibility of life on other planets within and beyond the solar system. I am especially interested in Mars and have been working on several projects related to the red planet.
Why is the Hope probe programme so important and historic to the UAE?
I see the Hope mission as a turning point in the UAE’s history. Space sciences require a very advanced level of expertise in STEM disciplines. STEM disciplines are also the foundation of our modern economy and more investment in the space sector by the UAE would lead to a rapid development in homegrown scientific and technological capabilities.
What questions will the Hope mission help answer?
We are expecting to understand the physics of how Mars lost the majority of its atmosphere and whether or not at some point in its history it had enough atmosphere to sustain liquid water on the surface and potentially host life. These are all very important questions and we are hoping to make progress towards answering these questions with the mission data. However, the most exciting part would be to find something new, which we have not anticipated and would add to our understanding of the planet.
How long will the mission take and when do you expect to start to collate results?
The spacecraft will take about 200 days to reach the Martian orbit and it should start sending data by May next year.
How can readers track the progress of the Hope probe?
MBRSC website and/or Hope Mars mission’s social media accounts.
Do you see mankind colonising Mars?
Space agencies around the world are gearing up for human missions to Mars and establishing a human colony on the planet. But that goal is far ahead of us in the future because it is extremely difficult to launch and maintain astronaut safety in such long-duration space missions. I think a more practical approach for the moment would be to send astronauts in the Martian orbit and bring them back.
Do you believe in there being advanced extraterrestrial life?
The Universe is a very big place and there is a possibility that advanced life exists beyond Earth, but we do not have any evidence of it as yet. We have a higher probability of finding microbial life beyond Earth in my opinion.
How do you see the future of space exploration?
With more countries joining the space sector and having new and exciting missions launching on a regular basis it is a very exciting time for space exploration and the future looks bright!
How would you encourage other students to pursue a career in this field?
Space exploration is extremely challenging but also highly rewarding. If you are ambitious and hardworking then this is the field for you. Every day I encounter new problems and learn new things in an attempt to solve them. I also collaborate with like-minded people around the globe. Given the UAE’s commitment to space exploration, it is a great opportunity for students to get involved in these activities and build a career in this field.
Suggested Read: Deciphering Mars Mysteries With Hope