A team of Emirati schoolgirls is reaching for the stars after training at a space academy in Singapore.
The two hand-picked groups of 15 made up of 16 to 18-year-olds from the Al Mizhar American Academy for girls in Mirdif took part in four-day training courses in February and September.
The youngsters took part in the Space Academy Singapore Programme, which aims to promote science and engineering.
Aisha Almaazmi and her friend Khadija Galadari, both 16, were awarded the best cadet prizes during their trips this year.
"It was a fantastic experience to go to Singapore and learn about space travel,” said Aisha, who went in February.
Also attending the course were 15 girls from Singaporean schools. "At first we weren't sure if we would get along, but I've made some really good friends during the trip,” she said. "It was great to see a different culture and meet people from different backgrounds.
"You realise that people are the same everywhere.”
Having been given a taste of science in space Aisha is now considering studying space engineering.
For Khadija, curiosity led her to sign up for the programme.
"I wasn't sure if I was interested in space science but after hearing about Aisha's experience I thought I'd see for myself and it was amazing,” she said.
"We did a lot of interesting things like learning how to control a rover and looking at the maths involved in getting something into space.
"You don't realise all the work that is needed to get an astronaut into space and that was a real eye-opener. It really helps you to understand it from an astronaut's point of view.”
During the course, the girls worked in teams to simulate real space experiences and develop their creative thinking in high-pressure situations. One such test was a cold weather extraction in a snow dome.
Dr Donald Thomas, a Nasa astronaut, who presented the girls with certificates at the school yesterday, believed projects such as the academy could help to bring more young people into sciences.
"The UAE now has a space agency and the plan is to send a spacecraft to Mars by 2021 and maybe someday these students will play a role in helping to achieve that goal,” he said.
"These kinds of programmes can help to play an important role in getting children interested in science and engineering, which is what we need to encourage.”
Hard work and persistence were the elements needed to achieve goals in life, he said. "I wanted to be an astronaut since the age of six,” he said. "When I joined Nasa, I tried three times to become an astronaut but was rejected.
"It was not until I was 39 that I was able to go into space on my fourth try. You should never give up on your dreams and work hard to get them.”
Bridget Justen, the school principal, said the programme allowed young female Emiratis a chance to meet and interact with their peers from Singapore. "Not only do they learn what it takes to be an astronaut or work on a space programme but it's a wonderful chance for them to learn leadership skills and broaden their horizons,” she said.
The school may increase the number of pupils who go into the programme.
The trips were sponsored by the Dubai Land Department and supported by BFC Management.
Source: The National