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Mission accomplished: What Saudi astronauts have achieved for the Kingdom

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31 May 2023 11:05:32 GMT9
31 May 2023 11:05:32 GMT9

As we bask in the brilliance of Saudi Arabia’s recently concluded achievement in space science, a familiar chorus of social media cynics has attempted to belittle our momentous stride by insinuating that it was merely the result of our country’s economic clout. They suggest that the feat of sending two Saudi astronauts, Rayyana Barnawi and Ali Alqarni, to the International Space Station was simply purchased rather than earned. Such narratives not only negate the hard work, innovation and pioneering spirit of our nation, but they also neglect to recognize the multifaceted ways in which our resources are used for collective progress and humanitarian causes.

Indeed, Saudi Arabia’s financial muscle is an undeniable reality. Still, the key question to be asked is not about our capacity to spend, but how and where we choose to direct these resources. A country being wealthy is not always an indication of its success. There are many examples of countries in the region that, despite being incredibly wealthy, suffer from anarchy, instability and a lack of basic amenities. Saudi Arabia’s answers are evidently positive, with the Kingdom utilizing its wealth for a myriad of transformative initiatives, both domestically and globally.

For starters, let us look at the commendable humanitarian efforts led by Saudi Arabia. Most recently, we spearheaded the evacuation of civilians caught up in the unrest in Sudan, saving countless innocent lives. Our largesse extends beyond immediate crises, too. We remain one of the most generous donors in global aid, continually supporting the poorest nations to help elevate their living standards and fostering sustainable development through programs such as KSrelief and the Saudi Fund for Development.

Moreover, our economic interventions have saved numerous economies teetering on the brink of collapse. These actions reveal a commitment to global stability that transcends mere financial calculations and underscores our dedication to mutual progress and shared prosperity.

Closer to home, the Kingdom’s ambitious “giga-projects,” from NEOM to Diriyah to the Red Sea Project, as well as both the Saudi and Middle East Green Initiatives, are radical illustrations of our commitment to economic diversification and sustainability. These ventures promise to revolutionize not only our local economy but also to contribute to global innovation and ecological balance.

Our critics conveniently overlook these aspects, while choosing to focus on our spending in space exploration. However, investing in science and discovery is hardly a folly to be frowned upon; rather, it is an endeavor to be commended. Our strides in space science mirror our broader aspiration to lead in technological innovation, contribute to humanity’s shared understanding of the universe and inspire future generations.

The key question to be asked is not about Saudi Arabia’s capacity to spend, but how and where we choose to direct these resources.

Faisal J. Abbas | Editor-in-Chief

The cynics question the rationale behind our space ventures, arguing that they are mere displays of wealth. However, they miss the point that space exploration is as much about human progress as it is about national achievement. It encourages scientific curiosity, fosters technological innovation and bolsters global cooperation — elements crucial to addressing the pressing challenges of our times, from climate change to resource scarcity.

It is instructive to review the experience of other nations that have invested significantly in space exploration. In doing so, we can discern a clear pattern of broad-based returns that extend far beyond the monetary.

Take, for instance, the US, whose National Aeronautics and Space Administration has been at the forefront of space exploration for decades. The investment in the Apollo moon missions, while initially deemed expensive, has reaped substantial rewards. The technological innovations stemming from these endeavors, such as solar panels, CAT scans and even freeze-dried food, have found their way into everyday life, benefiting humanity as a whole. This is the tangible, material return on investment that space exploration has yielded.

But the impact extends beyond financial metrics and physical products. The launch of Sputnik by the Soviet Union and subsequent space race galvanized interest in science education across the US, leading to an unprecedented growth in interest in STEM — science, technology, engineering and math — fields. This surge helped fuel technological innovation and economic growth for decades to come.

Moreover, the inspirational effect of space exploration cannot be underestimated. The image of the first human setting foot on the moon, the awe-inspiring pictures of distant galaxies and nebulae from the Hubble Space Telescope, the audacious feats of the Mars rovers — all these have sparked the imaginations of countless young people, inspiring them to pursue careers in science and contributing to a culture of innovation and exploration.

In Saudi Arabia, we are already witnessing a similar groundswell of interest. Our investment in space exploration is fostering a newfound interest in STEM subjects among our youth, while our astronauts serve as role models, inspiring our young people to dream big and reach for the stars.

The two Saudi astronauts’ journey to the space station symbolizes more than an exciting milestone for our country; it is an embodiment of our broader objectives. It stands testament to the fact that Saudi Arabia is using its resources to not just better itself, but also to contribute positively to the world at large. Rather than belittling this achievement, it should be applauded.

  • Faisal J. Abbas is the editor in chief of Arab News. Twitter: @FaisalJAbbas
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