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A tiny oil-rich Middle Eastern nation is aiming to lead humanity beyond Earth – and settle Mars in the 22nd century, according to the monarchical society’s rulers.

The “Mars 2117 Project” envisions having people living on the red planet by that year, said ruler of Dubai and Vice President Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, and the crown prince Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, in this week’s announcement.

“The new project is a seed that we plant today, and we expect future generations to reap the benefits, driven by its passion to learn to unveil a new knowledge,” said Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid. “The landing of people on other planets has been a longtime dream of humans. Our aim is that the UAE will spearhead international efforts to make this dream a reality.”

The country plans to develop an “international scientific consortium” to speed up innovation of making the surface of Mars habitable, and also to improve transportation between the two worlds. A key part of their vision is “the first human city on Mars that will be built by robots.”

Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, also the deputy supreme commander of the country’s armed forces, said the century-long project would involve changing the Earth-bound society’s culture and values. Already the country is among the biggest spenders in the world in the space sciences, he said.

“Our first object is to develop our educational system so our sons will be able to lead scientific research across the various sectors,” he said. “The UAE became part of a global scientific drive to explore (space), and we hope to serve humanity through this project,” said the sheikh, who is also the crown prince of Abu Dhabi.

The UAE has a probe mission to Mars which is expected to launch in 2020, and travel seven months before landing on the target planet in 2021, the nation’s rulers have said

Currently, the American goal is to have human feet on the red planet in the 2030s, according to the latest NASA estimates. Earth-bound missions to understand the isolation of living on a far-off planet have been underway for a number of years.

The United Arab Emirates achieved independence from the United Kingdom in 1971. Currently it is home to roughly 10 million people.

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