UAE high school student Alia Al Mansoori’s experiment is on its way to the International Space Station. This is the culmination of the first UAE Genes in Space competition held in the UAE and made possible through a partnership of the UAE Space Agency, The National and Boeing.

The DNA-based research competition was open to all students in Grades 7 through 12 across the country. The contest invites students to propose experiments that contribute to solving real-life space exploration problems.

The experiment by Al Mansoori, 15, of Al Mawakeb School Al Barsha in Dubai, will be the third award winner to fly an experiment to the ISS under the auspices of the Genes in Space competition and the first outside the United States. Al Mansoori’s experiment will examine DNA produced in space for changes in protein expression. The results may provide clues on how to prevent unwanted cell death in order to keep future astronauts healthy during long-duration missions into deep space, including flights to Mars.

Al Mansoori worked with scientists from miniPCR to prepare her experiment for launch and operations aboard the station. Working with a miniPCR DNA replicator smaller than a glove box, astronauts will create numerous chains of DNA on orbit to see how they change. Al Mansoori said UAE Genes in Space inspired her by offering the opportunity to potentially help future astronauts reach Mars safely.

“The need to explore connects us all as humans and it inspires us in different ways to pursue advances,” said Al Mansoori. “I looked at how astronauts might need to be protected while in space, or at least offer them a way to see what changes are taking place in their bodies. Knowing that, it may be possible to prevent such damage from taking place at all.”

H.E. Dr. Ahmad Belhoul Al Falasi, Minister of State for Higher Education and Chairman of the UAE Space Agency, said: “The UAE Space Agency’s organization and backing of this competition comes as part of the UAE’s comprehensive efforts to support its ambitious youth and their endeavors. This competition has highlighted the deep interest among our youth in a range of applied space sciences and technologies. These fields are a foundation of national growth that will advance our strong international standing.”

H.E. Dr. Al Falasi noted that the national space sector has made a number of significant achievements in improving national capacities and raising public awareness of the space sector, particularly among the country’s youth. In this regard, the competition has directly supported and advanced the Space Agency’s strategic objectives to develop human capital throughout the national space sector.

The Space Agency Chairman went on to express his pride in the nation’s youth. By participating in international events such as this, they have proved their capabilities and merit, and have contributed to raising the UAE’s profile, he added.

H.E. Dr. Mohammed Al Ahbabi, Director General of the UAE Space Agency, said: “One of our core mandates is to develop national and regional capacities in advanced STEM fields and space sciences. UAE Genes in Space represented a perfect opportunity to engage with younger generations on these crucial issues. The fact that it is the first edition to take place outside of the United States is a reflection of the progress that has been made throughout our burgeoning space sector.”

Al Mansoori’s research effort will follow in the successful paths of Anna-Sophia Boguraev, who won the inaugural Genes in Space competition in 2015, Julian Rubinfein, who won the 2016 competition, as well as  the two individual winners of the 2017 Elizabeth Reizis and Sophia Chen. The students worked with accomplished scientists from MIT, Harvard and Yale University, who mentored them to get their projects prepared and then performed on orbit aboard the unique microgravity environment offered by the station. The research resulted in published scientific reports to ensure the students’ findings are available to researchers working to decipher the riddles of human spaceflight.

“The students who take part in this competition bring so much imagination and creativity to the research they propose that I think it drives all of us to work that much harder to make sure the experiment is successful and knowing that the results are making a meaningful contribution to science and the future of human space exploration,” said Bernard Dunn, Boeing’s president for MENAT Region.

Photo captions:

Image 1 - Alia Al Mansoori, center, applauds soon after the rocket carrying her Genes In Space experiment launches from Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Credit: Boeing/Steven Siceloff.

Image 2 - Alia Al Mansoori watches the liftoff of the cargo-carrying rocket as it begins the mission to take research gear including her Genes in Space experiment to the International Space Station. Photo credit: Boeing/Steven Siceloff.

Image 3: Tessa Montegue, left, scientific mentor for Genes in Space, and Alia Al Mansoori discuss the research work with former space shuttle commander Bob Cabana, director of NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

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About the UAE Space Agency:

The UAE Space Agency, the first national space agency in the region, was established in 2014, and is responsible for organizing, regulating and supporting the national space sector under federal law. This includes the complete oversight and funding of space missions such as the Mars Hope Probe, the UAE’s unmanned mission to Mars. 

The primary goals of the UAE Space Agency are to contribute significantly to diversification of the national economy, prepare the upcoming generation of Emiratis for leadership in the space sector through a range of capacity building programs, and raise awareness about space sciences and STEM fields among the general public. In addition, it is responsible for expanding and enhancing the UAE’s international standing in space-related fields, and for issuing policy and laws for the space sector.


About Boeing’s Role in Human Space Exploration:

Boeing is NASA’s prime contractor on the International Space Station program. In addition to designing, building and processing for launch the American modules and the integrated truss system that powers the station, Boeing performs the sustaining engineering. Boeing’s work maintains the station’s role as an orbiting laboratory capable of producing cutting-edge research across numerous scientific disciplines. Boeing processes experiment and systems racks for launch, installation and operation aboard the station. Boeing routinely works with NASA to enhance the station’s capabilities by upgrading subsystems and software to maintain the laboratory’s role as the most advanced human-rated spacecraft ever operated on orbit. Boeing will begin flying astronauts to the station next year aboard the CST-100 Starliner, a spacecraft developed by Boeing in partnership with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program that will give America its first human-rated space transportation vehicle since the retirement of the space shuttles in 2011. Boeing also is building the core stage of NASA’s Space Launch System, a rocket powerful enough to lift astronauts and spacecraft to destinations beyond Earth orbit, such as lunar orbit and Mars.


About miniPCR:

miniPCR was founded in 2013 by Ezequiel “Zeke” Alvarez Saavedra and Sebastian Kraves, both graduates of Harvard who sought to make access to DNA analysis more accessible by making a portable, inexpensive device that could replicate specific sections of DNA. About the size of a glove box, the miniPCR uses a process called polymerase chain reaction, or PCR, to make millions of copies of any specific piece of DNA. Scientists and doctors use miniPCR each day to accelerate cutting-edge research, diagnose Ebola and other blood-borne diseases, assess food safety, and to teach essential biotechnology in schools. The Harvard-based team is constantly working to further expand access to biology where it's needed. The company partnered with Boeing to co-create the Genes in Space student competition in order to instill the love of science and engineering in the next generation.


About The National:

The National was founded in 2008 setting a new standard for quality journalism in the Middle East. The National reaches an influential audience across the country, covering the best in news while leading the region in analytical content and commentary. The National prints six days a week and delivers content across all digital platforms using the latest multimedia tools. The title serves the local community while delivering a strong international perspective.


Source: Four Communications