Update on Joint NASA-UAE Education Program at Ames

A P3 Navy aircraft with Hangar One at NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California. (Copyright 2009: Douglas Messier)

NASA’s outreach to predominantly Muslim country produced a political firestorm over the summer that, for some indiscernible reason, focused very little on the specifics of what the space agency is actually doing in that area. The National, an English language publication based in Abu Dhabi, has an update on one of the programs:

On June 1, Shamma al Qassim boarded a plane bound for the US as the first Emirati woman to become a Nasa intern. On Sunday, Reem Ketait will become the second.

Ms al Qassim, 19, along with two other Emirati students – Hazza Bani Malek, 20, and Hamad Rajab, 21 – spent 10 weeks training alongside Nasa engineers as part of the Educational Associates programme.

Until a few months ago, the scheme admitted only US citizens. But thanks to an agreement between Nasa and the RAK-based Arab Youth Venture Foundation, sponsored by Mubadala – the Abu Dhabi Government’s investment company – Emirati students may well become a regular feature at the Ames Research Centre in Silicon Valley, California.

Ms Ketait, 23, is the only woman among the 10 students who will soon begin the 15-week Nasa programme. With a degree in chemical engineering from the UAE University in Al Ain, her passion for discovery in the field of renewable energy “aligned exactly and perfectly” with the opportunity to train at Nasa, she said…

Ms Ketait will spend the last few days of Ramadan and Eid far from her family, but she insists she is not worried. “I was so surprised to see in my orientation package a list of prayer times, which was very touching,” she said. “They attend to the tiniest of details, which shows how much importance there is in this programme, that they have bothered to understand our background and build these types of bridges.”

Lisa LaBonte, the chief executive of the Arab Youth Venture Foundation, said a major benefit of the programme was the chance for the students to work with Nasa research scientists. “No one does education or innovation quite like Nasa does,” she said.

Well, there you have it. NASA — the fifth best place to work in the federal government and perhaps the most recognizable brand the U.S. has for peaceful cooperation — is conducting effective educational outreach to a part of the world where America not very popular.

So, why was this ever a big issue?

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