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Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

As the U.S., China and others focus on launching rockets and putting boots on the Moon, the tiny Gulf nation of the United Arab Emirates is set on building a settlement on Mars in 100 years.

Driving the news: Last week, the UAE sent its first astronaut, Hazzaa al-Mansoori, to the International Space Station aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft.

  • Instead of building its own rockets, the country's young space agency is focused on launching a probe to Mars in 2020 and buying services — like al-Mansoori's seat aboard the Soyuz — elsewhere.
  • Focusing on ambitious goals such as Mars missions are usually the purview of established space powers like the U.S. or China, Simon Seminari of Euroconsult told Axios, so the UAE is projecting its own power by punching above its weight class.

The big picture: The UAE's space program resembles a startup spaceflight company like Virgin Galactic more than NASA or Roscosmos.

  • "They could take the normal path and then that would just put them where the U.S. and Russia were 50 years ago, or they could start a new path, and they can be in front of everybody in 50 years," Peter Marquez, a consultant that has worked with the UAE on its space program, told Axios.

The intrigue: The UAE — which launched its space program in 2014 — invested about $383 million into the agency in 2018, according to Euroconsult.

  • The nation plans to launch its Earth-imaging Falcon Eye-2 satellite in the coming year, though the first Falcon Eye satellite was destroyed in a launch failure in July.
  • The agency is also building its Mars Science City, a research area designed to simulate Mars and determine what tech is needed to establish a Martian settlement around 2117.
"They also want to leap ahead of where everybody is and start developing the capabilities that people are going to need in 100 years," Marquez said.

Yes, but: The UAE's approach to space travel isn't without its risks, however.

  • The nation is speeding toward its ambitious goals, but if something goes wrong or gets delayed, it might force the agency to outsource more work instead of fostering its own technically capable workforce, Marquez said.

The impact: For now, the space agency’s plans for a Martian outpost are more about inspiring people to get involved in the challenge, said Brian Weeden of the Secure World Foundation.

  • "We don't even know if humans can live off the planet," Weeden told Axios. "But a lot of people would like to think we can."

Go deeper: Scientists map Chinese lunar probe landing

Go deeper

Tech scrambles to derail inauguration threats

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Tech companies are sharing more information with law enforcement in a frantic effort to prevent violence around the inauguration, after the government was caught flat-footed by the Capitol siege.

Between the lines: Tech knows it will be held accountable for any further violence that turns out to have been planned online if it doesn't act to stop it.

Dave Lawler, author of World
2 hours ago - World

Uganda's election: Museveni declared winner, Wine claims fraud

Wine rejected the official results of the election. Photo: Sumy Sadruni/AFP via Getty

Yoweri Museveni was declared the winner of a sixth presidential term on Saturday, with official results giving him 59% to 35% for Bobi Wine, the singer-turned-opposition leader.

Why it matters: This announcement was predictable, as the election was neither free nor fair and Museveni had no intention of surrendering power after 35 years. But Wine — who posed a strong challenged to Museveni, particularly in urban areas, and was beaten and arrested during the campaign — has said he will present evidence of fraud. The big question is whether he will mobilize mass resistance in the streets.

Off the Rails

Episode 1: A premeditated lie lit the fire

Photo illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Beginning on election night 2020 and continuing through his final days in office, Donald Trump unraveled and dragged America with him, to the point that his followers sacked the U.S. Capitol with two weeks left in his term. Axios takes you inside the collapse of a president with a special series.

Episode 1: Trump’s refusal to believe the election results was premeditated. He had heard about the “red mirage” — the likelihood that early vote counts would tip more Republican than the final tallies — and he decided to exploit it.

"Jared, you call the Murdochs! Jason, you call Sammon and Hemmer!”