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UAE plans Mars mission in 2021, may trigger space race in Middle East

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A new space race has apparently emerged with more and more countries now launching missions to Mars.

On Wednesday, the United Arab Emirates joined the ranks of the United States, Japan, China and India in working on projects and missions to the red planet as it announced the creation of its own space agency and intention to send an unmanned mission to Mars by 2021.

"Despite all the tensions and the conflicts across the Middle East, we have proved today how positive a contribution the Arab people can make to humanity through great achievements, given the right circumstances and ingredients," UAE vice president and Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum said. "Our region is a region of civilization. Our destiny is, once again, to explore, to create, to build and to civilize."

It used to be the Soviet Union and the United States racing for supremacy in spaceflight with the U.S. eventually making it as the first country to successfully send men to the moon in 1969. Now, several countries are eyeing the red planet.

India's Mars orbiter, which was launched in November last year, is expected to reach Mars' orbit by Sept. 24. China, on the other hand, plans to send a vehicle to Mars by 2020 after an unsuccessful attempt in 2011. In 2010, the United States, which already has its Curiosity Rover exploring the surface of Mars, unveiled a plan to send manned missions to orbit the red planet by the mid 2030's. Japan is also embarking on a project to send manned mission to Mars.

In a statement, the UAE government said that it has joined the space race with a project to send the first unmanned Arab probe to Mars by 2021. It also unveiled the creation of the UAE Space Agency which will take charge of the mission and will be involved in the country's space technology sector.

The journey of the Mars probe, which is anticipated to take nine months and will cover over 60 million kilometers, will coincide with UAE's 50th anniversary of independence from Britain. The statement also reported that the country already has an investment of over $5 billion on space technology which includes an earth observation system and a satellite broadcaster.

UAE's planned mission to Mars may seem humble compared with those of Japan and U.S. but it appears to be an effort to keep up with an apparent space race in the Middle East. Iran has launched a second monkey into space last year.

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