(MENAFN - Arab News) Saudi Arabia has embarked on a major plan to advance its position in science and technology by investing in its people, which will go a long way in addressing problems of national importance and improving quality of life.
"More than 150,000 Saudi students are currently pursuing different academic and research programs in premier international universities across the world," said Prince Sultan Ibn Salman, chairman of the organizing committee of the Saudi International Space and Aeronautics Technologies Conference said on Monday night.
Prince Sultan, who is also the chief of Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities (SCTA), formally launched the conference and delivered his inaugural address. At the very outset, Prince Sultan, who is renowned as being the first Arab and Muslim astronaut, thanked Custodian of Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah and Crown Prince Salman, minister of defense, for their support in organizing this international event in Riyadh.
The Saudi International Space and Aeronautics Technology Conference is being held in association with the 25th Planetary Congress of the
Association of Space Explorers (ASE). ASE organizes an annual planetary congress in host nations around the world and serves as a forum where members interact professionally and develop ASE programs, in addition to facilitating a wide dissemination of the latest information about space science and research.
The opening ceremony was followed by a banquet dinner at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel which was attended by about 95 high-profile international space explorers and scientists, as well as top Saudi officials and foreign diplomats. Prominent among them on the occasion included Khaled Al-Faleh, chief executive officer of Saudi Aramco; Dr Mohammed Bin Ibrahim Al-Suwaiyel, president of King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology; Dumitru-Dorin Prunario, ASE president; and Dr Charles Elachi, director of JPL Laboratory of the United States.
Referring to the Kingdom's achievements in the field of science and technology, Prince Sultan said that "Saudi Arabia stands on the forefront of countries in the region and is also ahead of many countries internationally in the domain of science and technology, including space science."
"Our country has invested in its future by investing in its people," said the prince referring to the industrial growth of the country.
"Today, we have more than 150,000 students currently pursuing different courses in a number of international universities in over 30 countries," said Prince Sultan. "No country ever has done this," he added. "These Saudi students will open new windows of education, learn science and establish friendship globally," he noted. Today, Saudi Arabia is "a major industrialized nation, a technologically advanced country," he observed.
Referring to the growing cooperation between the Kingdom and the US National Aeronautics and Space Agency (NASA), he said: "I was a party in bringing together NASA and KACST. In fact, Charles Frank Bolden Jr, NASA administrator, is good friend of mine."
The prince asserted that a cooperation agreement is in place between NASA and KACST, adding that the two sides are working on joint plans and projects. "I will meet Bolden next week in Washington," said Prince Sultan, who will be traveling to the US for other engagements.
He said that the Kingdom has created a conducive environment and everyone "enjoys working with our country". "We are a great country, an honest broker and we are heading for a bright future," he added.
"In fact, the space and aeronautics domain in the Kingdom has experienced substantial growth because of the care given to this field of science," said KACST chief Al-Suwaiyel while speaking during the opening ceremony.
He said that the Kingdom had a national plan of science, technology and innovation.
"A key element of the plan is to launch several programs in different science streams," said the KACST chief, adding that the Kingdom has been working with NASA over the last several decades. This was followed by the joining of the Saudi team to the Discovery Mission on July 17, 1985. "Prince Sultan joined this US mission as the first Arab and Muslim astronaut," he said.
Referring to the conference and its benefits, Al-Suwaiyel said the event gives an opportunity to exchange knowledge and expertise between astronauts, scientists and researchers on intricate matters of space sciences and modern technology. Al-Suwaiyel, together with Saudi Aramco chief Al-Faleh and other sponsors, were also presented with plaques of appreciation by Prince Sultan on this occasion. The conference conferred the coveted award for outstanding contributions for space exploration on Dr Charles Elachi, an Arab American who is the director of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in the US besides serving as vice president of the California Institute of Technology.
Speaking on this occasion, ASE President Prunario said that the Association of Space Explorers is an international nonprofit professional and educational organization of over 375 astronauts and cosmonauts from 35 nations. He said that Prince Sultan is the founding member of the ASE.
"ASE was founded in 1985 in Cernay, France by small group of US, Russian and international fliers including Sultan bin Salman, myself and another small number of colleagues present here today," said Prunario while appreciating the efforts of Prince Sultan to promote space science.
He pointed out that ASE's mission is to provide a forum for professional dialogue among individuals who have flown in space, to support space science and exploration for the benefit of all, to promote and to support education in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
"The week-long Congress affords a unique opportunity for communication between members of the international space community, government agencies and the public," said the ASE president, while speaking about the Riyadh conference.
He pointed out that ASE partners with several Russian space institutions and hopes to provide travel stipends for deserving students from the 35 ASE member nations who may not otherwise be able to afford to travel to Star City, Russia.
"Please help us by your contribution. Give the next generation a voice in the stewardship and care of our home planet," he appealed.
"ASE seeks to stimulate interest in science and mathematics and to inspire in students a life-long commitment to education," he noted.
On other achievements of the ASE, he said that it has set up a general scholarship fund that supports students and young professionals pursuing careers in the space sciences, engineering or space business administration.
"The International Space University Fellowship is an ASE scholarship specifically intended to support young space professionals or students who have been accepted to the International Space University," he added.
The first ASE ISU Fellowship will be awarded at the XXVI Planetary Congress in 2013, he said.
He added that the group of space explorers will visit 12 universities and educational institutions in the Kingdom and interact with a cross section of Saudi society. "Thank you once again Prince Sultan for hosting us here and offering the possibility to show the world the meaning of outer space, education and the future of new space generations," concluded the ASE chief.