With eyes on Mars, 15-year-old Emirati girl’s experiment heads into space

16 Aug 2017

The Falcon 9 SpaceX rocket for NASA’s CRS-12 mission taking off with a payload that includes Alia Al Mansoori’s experiment. Image: NASA/Tony Gray and Sandra Joseph

15-year-old Emirati girl Alia Al Mansoori got to watch her genetics science project blast into space aboard a NASA rocket.

If ever there was a role model for young girls and women looking to advance in the fields of science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM), it would be 15-year-old Emirati girl Alia Al Mansoori.

Last February, the Dubai native was chosen as the winner of the country’s Genes In Space competition, pitched to young students to design DNA experiments that address challenges in space exploration.

Future Human

Al Mansoori’s project was focused on how exposure to space affects the health of live organisms at cellular level.

She can now celebrate the fact that she was able to watch her experiment launch from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center on the CRS-12 rocket as it began its journey to the International Space Station (ISS).

When aboard the largest artificial satellite in space, the experiment will be tested by a crew of astronauts in the hope of better understanding our body’s ability to withstand radiation ahead of future human missions to Mars.

According to the Emirati newspaper The National, the tests will be carried out on a machine called a miniPCR, which replicates genetic material to test it under a variety of conditions.

While future space exploration research is one of key objectives of the experiment’s mission, it also has possible uses for genetic medicine down here on Earth.

‘There’s no impossible!’

Speaking with NASA prior to the launch, Al Mansoori said her interest in science developed from a love of aliens and science fiction, reiterating her dream of making it into space herself one day as an astronaut on a Mars mission.

“It’s a big thing to dream about … I mean, I’m only 15 and I’m sending my experiment into space so there’s no impossible!” she said.

While watching the Falcon 9 SpaceX rocket take off, she added that the feeling she experienced “was just so inspiring”.

When the experiment is finished on the ISS, the plan is to send the equipment back down to Earth where Al Mansoori and a team from Harvard will analyse the results.

Speaking of the achievement, Dr Fatima Al Aydaroos of the United Arab Emirates Space Agency said: “Alia has been a very good role model by doing what is her passion, and I have no doubt she will be an astronaut in the near future.”

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic