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MENAFN - Arab News - 08/11/2012

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Space scientists and explorers talked to Saudi students at a forum hosted by KACST in Riyadh on Wednesday. (AN photo)
(MENAFN - Arab News) Prominent Arab-American scientist Charles Elachi, who was the brain behind the "Mars Curiosity Mission" launched by the United States recently, said the contributions of Arab scientists including space explorers have been extremely important and have enriched the political, economic and cultural life of the people.

"The Mars Curiosity Mission is a humble contribution made by me and my team working at the California-based Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL)," said Elachi, JPL director, here yesterday.

An American of Lebanese origin, Elachi, who was decorated with Crystal Helmet Award by the Association of Space Explorers (ASE) by the first Arab and Muslim astronaut Prince Sultan bin Salman, chairman of Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities; and ASE President Dumitru-Dorin Prunario in Riyadh, said that Arab Americans have risen to prominence in every profession in different countries including the US. He recalled the valuable contributions made by Arab scientists and explorers during the last several centuries.

Elachi recalled his story and the stories of hundreds of Arab American individuals and organizations, whose contributions have influenced the way of life. He said: "I am honored to be given the recognition by the ASE."
"This reflects not only on me personally but on all my colleagues at JPL who helped me throughout my career," said Elachi, who has been responsible for the development of more than 45 flight missions, research works and instruments.

The JPL chief, who has lectured in more then 20 countries about space exploration and earth observation besides being credited with the publication of more than 230 highly acclaimed research papers, said he "as an Arab is happy to receive the ASE award in Saudi Arabia."

Elachi's latest contribution to the space exploration, the Mars Mission, is an unmatched feat of engineering, management, planning and control as well as a outstanding contribution to the exploration of space.

Asked about the new achievements of JPL, he said that the Mars Curiosity rover made a heart-pounding and technically pitch-perfect landing on Mars on Aug. 5, setting the stage for a two-year mission to determine if the planet could have ever hosted life. "That was the moment of happiness for me, my team and in fact for the whole world," said the Arab-American scientist. He said that JPL launched three other new missions recently. In June 2012, the JPL launched the X-ray telescope NuSTAR.

He pointed out that the Dawn spacecraft, which since last summer has orbited the Asteroid Belt's second largest object, the protoplanet Vesta; will soon use ion propulsion to embark on a flight to orbit the dwarf planet Ceres in 2015. They are among many other missions currently operating across the solar system, he noted.

"Closer to home, a contingent of earth-orbiting satellites monitors the lands, oceans and atmosphere of our own planet, returning important information," he added. In total, JPL has 24 spacecraft and 10 instruments conducting active missions.

Asked about his next mission, Elachi said that the JPL is working on a project to take pictures of neighboring planets. That would change completely our thinking of the world around us, he noted. The other one, which is equally exciting but in a different way, is going and visiting the different oceans around the solar system. "More exciting things will happen within next 10 to 20 years," said the JPL chief, adding that investment in science and education is absolutely essential for any country.


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