Apollo 15 Command Module Pilot, Col. Al Worden, USAF-Ret., will visit the United Arab Emirates for the first time next month to advocate for science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) as “the fundamental tools of the trade” for future exploration on Earth and in space.
As a guest of the UAE Space Agency Nov. 8-9, Worden will visit STEM high schools in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, and participate in the UAE University (Al Ain) Mars Symposium before turning his attention to appearances the following week at the Dubai Airshow and ADIPEC 2017 in support of the U.S. presence at those two trade events.
The tour is being led by Kallman Worldwide, Inc., organizer of the USA Partnership Pavilions at each show, and sponsored by The Boeing Company, General Atomics Aeronautical and Lockheed Martin.
In conversations and presentations with diverse audiences of students and professionals, Worden will reference the current wave of global interest and investment in Mars exploration, and specifically the UAE Space Agency’s “Hope” Mission to that planet, as a launch pad for wider discussions about the importance of STEM education and careers.
“As an international community of explorers, we are going to Mars together,” says Worden. “We’re informed, we’re inspired, we’re empowered and connected. The big question is: Are there enough of us to get the job done? Are we exciting enough young people to become engineers?”
The answer, he admits, is, “Not yet. When you consider the decades of professional rigor and discipline it’s going to take to successfully put people from Earth on Mars, and that getting to Mars is just one of the countless engineering challenges we face on our own planet today, we need to pick up the pace,” Worden says. “The pipeline for STEM talent can handle a lot more volume!”
H.E. Dr. Mohammed Al Ahbabi, Director General of the UAE Space Agency commented: “It is a fascinating and exciting time to part of the space industry as we move forward with ambitious plans to explore space and bring benefits to humanity and science. We must continue to encourage our youth to learn practically and visually about the world around them, so that one day they can be the next generation of space leaders. It is a great privilege to welcome Col. Al Worden to the UAE and we believe that his time here will help inspire young minds.”
Numerous studies confirm that following decades of heightened interest in STEM fields spawned by the 20th Century atomic and space ages, the global trend reversed in recent decades as more students around the world, particularly in western countries, chose liberal arts and so-called “soft science” education and careers over industrial paths.
Now, in the 21st Century, the digital age is pulling the pendulum back, particularly via computer and information sciences. Kallman Worldwide President and CEO, Tom Kallman, says the timing couldn’t be better for Worden to visit the UAE and accelerate that momentum.
“The intersection this year of the UAE’s two biggest trade events, the Dubai Airshow and ADIPEC, plus the participation of Al Worden, creates an exceptional opportunity to promote STEM to the country’s current and future industry and national leaders,” says Kallman. “With nearly three decades of experience representing U.S. interests to build bilateral business and community partnerships in the UAE, our company deeply appreciates and supports His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum’s vision to ‘build a space pioneering passion among our [Emirati] young people’.”
Worden agrees national passion is vital to a nation’s success in space, and sees parallels in the UAE space program to his own experience as an Apollo 15 astronaut.
“When the Saturn V lifted off for my mission to the moon in 1971 — the same year the UAE was founded — we were continuing a successful space program that was regaining momentum post-Apollo 13, and you could feel America’s passion for space,” he says. “Millions of people, aerospace professionals and ordinary citizens, were excited for our three-man crew to succeed, and that spirit also fueled extra interest in STEM education and careers in engineering.”
Nearly half a century later, as life on Earth becomes more complex and fragile, Worden explains, it’s time to channel mankind’s passion for exploration and discovery into partnerships to achieve a greater planetary purpose.
“We have not been at this moment in history before, facing the urgent demand we have today for data, money and talent to protect and preserve our species, and no nation can afford to go it alone any more,” Worden says. “If you believe, as I do, that mankind’s long-term future is in the universe, not in my country or yours, then we must become partners in creating a better system to produce more good engineers who can protect our planet now, and at the same time start looking far beyond the horizon.”
To bring the challenge down to Earth, he points to the UAE’s own success building a model nation in the middle of the Arabian Desert.
“The tremendous growth of the UAE in the last 46 years has demonstrated that Emiratis understand multi-national cooperation and engineering talent. It will take the same type of cooperation, increased exponentially, to colonize Mars in 100 years. The common denominator, as always, will be STEM.”