This panorama is a mosaic of images taken by the Mast Camera (Mastcam) on the NASA Mars rover Curiosity while the rover was working at a site called "Rocknest" in October and November 2012. Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Malin Space Science Systems
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The Emirates paves way for a Middle East space programme with its mission to Mars

The United Arab Emirates now has its own space agency, and plans to launch a mission to Mars by 2021.

The United Arab Emirates has announced plans to launch a mission to Mars by 2021. A first for the Arab world, the mission and accompanying Space Agency are a big deal for the UAE – scientifically and politically.

Investing in space activities is not new territory for the UAE. Its investments in space-related technology has already exceeded some US$5.4 billion, developing satellite data, mobile satellite communications and earth mapping and observation facilities. This is not surprising when we live in an age where space hardware is important for a range of practical everyday uses such as telecommunications and navigation. Accordingly, many countries have invested in purchasing satellites and their launches, data from space, and other space infrastructure.

Next level space missions
But there is something unique about the UAE’s announcement of plans to create a space agency and launch an unmanned mission to Mars by 2021. The plans indicate that the UAE will develop its own spacecraft building and perhaps also launching capabilities. While many countries participate in space activities through the purchase of hardware and launches from external providers, the ability to build and launch their own craft domestically lifts a country to the next level of the space faring elite.

The announcement also implies that the UAE plans to pursue hugely expensive space activities with a primarily scientific purpose. Yes, this project has a practical purpose in that it is to inspire UAE technology growth and the education of forthcoming scientists. However a country is also making a statement when it moves from space-related activity for purely practical purposes, to the more heady goals of exploration, inspiration and science.

Power, prestige and politics
The leap from practical to primarily scientific space activity is noteworthy. This is partly because a space programme is a way for states to assert their prestige. There is historical precedent that undertaking space activities for exploration garners prestige and indicates power: financial strength, technological capabilities and also ideologically the capability to be at the forefront of an area of research that taps into humanity’s biggest goals.

The origins of putting human-made objects into space were during the Cold War between the US and the USSR, often referred to as the first space race.

But we have moved on from the days where space was a bipolar activity: many countries have space capabilities and activities are undertaken for a wide range of reasons. Also non-state actors are increasingly active in space, including several (such as Mars One) that have planned manned missions to Mars.

Still, the UAE’s Mars mission has a political subtext on several levels. Domestically, it is timed to shore up nationalistic sentiment for the 50th anniversary of the country’s formation. Regionally, the project indicates leadership within the Middle East region. And globally, the mission marks the entry of an Arab nation into the elite club of countries with such ambitious space programs.

Success guaranteed?
Will this project work, both scientifically and in order to build international prestige? Scientifically, Mars missions have proved tricky. Many have failed, including the UK’s Mars Beagle 2 rover, which reached Mars in 2003 but failed upon landing on the Martian surface. Therefore it remains to be seen what exactly the plans are for the UAE’s Martian device, and what it will achieve.

Politically, the planned programme to Mars and also the creation of an UAE Space Agency makes a powerful statement. It puts the Middle East on the map with regards to space exploration for scientific purposes. It could also drive the creation of a Middle East space programme, akin to that of the European Space Agency.

This does not undermine the scientific value or importance of the project proposed by the UAE. The space science research community is well-networked transnationally, and a well-funded project to the red planet by the UAE should be welcomed.

Jill Stuart volunteers occasionally for the UK Labour Party.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.The Conversation

Azeem Ward
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Living the Meme: What happened to Azeem Ward and his flute?

In the first of a new series investigating what happens to people after they become memes, we speak to Azeem Ward, whose flute recital went viral in 2015.

The Sixties had Woodstock. The Nineties had Lollapalooza. The Tens – and, if we’re being honest, just a single year of them – had Azeem's Senior Flute Recital.

If you were inactive on the internet between 12 and 16 May 2015, you’ll be forgiven for not knowing who Azeem Ward is. After setting up a Facebook page for his end of year flute performance, the University of California student was inundated with over 100,000 RSVPs from the United Kindom, along with multiple requests to fly to England and play (for no apparent reason) Darude’s “Sandstorm” in Nando’s. After international news coverage, Ward – as all memes inevitably do – appeared on Jimmy Kimmel Live! to discuss his newfound fame. On 16 May, he had to turn hordes of people away from the 500 seat recital hall, and over 55,000 individuals tuned into a livestream of the event. Then, Ward disappeared. Not from social media, and not from the world, but from the internet’s collective consciousness.

Search interest in "Azeem Ward" over time

“I’d say no,” answers Ward, when I ask him whether, one and a half years later, he still receives any special attention or has any fan interactions. “I’m just regular Azeem now, and I’m okay with that. Regular me is a more focussed person that is not reacting to things that are happening around me.”

Ward is Skyping me from his home in Iowa, where he is getting his master’s degree in flute performance. He spends his time composing flute beatbox songs, learning how to produce music, and teaching a class on flute fundamentals at the university. “A lot of [the students] here in Iowa know what happened but they don’t go like: ‘Oh my God! It’s Azeem!’. It’s just like, ‘Hey, what’s up man? I saw that one thing about you on Jimmy Kimmel’.”  

The original Facebook event page

Ward regained his anonymity when he moved to Iowa, as many of his fellow undergraduate students in California recognised him because he was on the local news. “But the whole viral thing was a UK thing,” he explains, “It wasn’t really around the whole US.”

An Azeem meme

Four months after his famed flute recital, Ward did come to the UK and toured the country to perform as part of various university freshers’ weeks. “That was a crazy time,” he says, “I was over there for five weeks and played 22 shows in 12 different cities, all the way from London to Scotland.” His concerts were popular, though most people came to take a selfie or ask about how the recital happened, and only a few wanted to talk to him about music. Still, Ward profited from the events. “We did make some pretty good money," he says, admitting he earnt around $5,000. 

Despite clearly enjoying this time, Ward seems unfazed that his viral fame is now over. His only regrets, he says, are that he didn’t make any connections in the music business while in the UK, and that he didn’t have any social media accounts set up before he went viral, so there was nowhere for people to go to listen to his music. “When you go viral people hold onto that rather than taking you seriously as a musician,” he says. “Sometimes it annoyed me but sometimes I realised that I wouldn’t be there in the first place if it wasn’t for going viral.”

Azeem now, photo courtesy of Azeem Ward

So what advice would Ward give to the next person who finds themselves, unwittingly, the object of the internet’s affection?

“I'd say don't lose sight of what you've already been doing in your life, like keep your focus. I'd say that sometimes in your head you're like ‘Oh man, I have to do this now’, but you've just got to stay focussed on your goals. When you have your own path and you go viral you have a lot of people asking you to do all these different things. It was pretty intense – I’m not used to having a lot of people look at me and my actions, so I was pretty anxious at first. In the end I realised that I came to do what I came to do, and I had to go do it.”

Although Ward doesn’t miss being internet-famous, it is clear that going viral had an impact on him. He recalls the peak of the madness with telling clarity, sharing specific details such as "256 people” clicked attending in "four hours", and “then 512”, before 12,000 people RSVP’d overnight. Mostly, however, he seems very grounded, though he acknowledges it was “out of control” and “really crazy”.

Perhaps Ward feels this way because he received little in the way of negativity or hate. He fondly discusses memes that were created and art that was drawn about him, and the support of his family and friends. “Even though there were a lot of silly things going on, I managed to make it positive for the school,” he says. “I had no haters. Everyone was like ‘Damn, Azeem. Good job, man’.”

One day, Ward hopes to come back to London, although he is wary of returning. Not because of his viral fame, nor the number of selfies he might have to take with Nando's customers, but because of Brexit. Our conversation, like all post-June conversations, turns swiftly to the topic, and Ward asks me about the economy. “I was thinking about trying to do a doctorate over in London, but if things aren't going to be so good in a few years...” 

Ward admits he wouldn’t be bothered if he never went viral again. “When I think of something going viral, I think it has a point in time where there’s so much interest and then it goes away. I’d like to produce material and the attention to keep going up.” So do you want to be famous, I ask? “Do I really want to be famous?” he ponders. “Being famous is okay, I guess. But I want to be is respected and appreciated.”

To listen to Azeem’s music visit or Like his Facebook page.

To suggest an interviewee for Living the Meme, reach out to Amelia on Twitter.

Amelia Tait is a technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman.