Aiming to benefit science, Saudi Arabia unveils its space mission
The commission announced that the two astronauts would carry out 11 pioneering experiments in microgravity during flight
The results of which would help to enhance the Kingdom’s global position within space exploration and service to humanity
Updated 20 March 2023
RIYADH: The Saudi Space Commission has revealed the tasks and scientific research that will be conducted during the journey of Saudi astronauts Rayyanah Barnawi and Ali Al-Qarni as part of a mission to the International Space Station later this year.
The commission announced that the two astronauts would carry out 11 pioneering experiments in microgravity during the flight, the results of which would help to enhance the Kingdom’s global position within space exploration and service to humanity.
Officials noted that the Saudi tests in space would range from human research and cell science to artificial rain in microgravity.
In the artificial rain experiment, water vapor will be condensed on plankton and salt atoms in microgravity to simulate the cloud seeding process that is used in Saudi Arabia and other countries to increase precipitation rates.
Led by Dr. Ashraf Farahat, the trial is for the King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals and will help scientists and researchers devise new ways to provide suitable conditions for humans — including the work of artificial rain — to live in space colonies on the surface of the Moon and Mars.
In addition to 11 pioneering experiments, three educational awareness studies will be conducted aboard the International Space Station in real time with students throughout Saudi Arabia, in collaboration with the Ministry of Education, Mawhiba, Riyadh Schools, and Misk Schools.
The experiment will also contribute to improving researchers’ understanding of rain-seeding technology, which will contribute to increasing rainfall in many countries.
To better understand the impacts of being in space on human health, Saudi Arabia’s Nebula Research and Development, led by Dr. Bader Shirah, is conducting six experiments aboard the ISS, which will be performed by the astronauts.
The tests will utilize novel neuroscience tools including measuring blood flow to the brain and the brain’s electrical activity, assessing intracranial pressure by non-invasive assessment of the pupil of the eye, and monitoring changes in the optic nerve over time.
Improved monitoring of neurological health may help make spaceflight safer in the future and allow for the development of rapid, non-invasive monitoring, as well as early interventions and the development of countermeasures.
Blood and bio-sample specimens will also be taken to examine multiomic biomarkers related to spaceflight and to map changes in the length, structure, and epigenetics of chromosomes and telomeres.
The cell science experiments led by the world-renowned King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Center and its team of scientists, Dr. Khalid Abu Khabar, Dr. Wijdan Alahmadi, and Dr. Edward Hitti, will be investigating the inflammatory response of human immune cells in microgravity.
More specifically their research will be focused on changes in messenger ribonucleic acid (needed for protein production) decay, a process that can turn inflammation off. In addition, response to therapy is mimicked by utilizing the same cellular model. The crew will take RNA samples for analysis on ground, where the investigators will monitor RNA expression patterns, and hopefully thousands of mRNA half-lives will be measured.
Results are expected to contribute to a better understanding of space health and uncover biomarkers or potential therapies for inflammatory diseases in both space and on Earth.
In addition to these experiments, three educational awareness studies will be conducted aboard the ISS in real time with students throughout Saudi Arabia, in collaboration with the Ministry of Education, Mawhiba, Riyadh Schools, and Misk Schools.
The objectives will be to enhance students’ knowledge of space science and its contribution to improving the quality of life on Earth, by juxtaposing their terrestrial-based experiments to the ones being conducted in real-time by the Saudi crew on the ISS.
Students will be able to see at first-hand how the experiment environment can have a real effect on results. The real-time interaction will ensure that students have access to the Saudi crew live as they perform their experiments together, one on Earth, and one in space simultaneously.
The efforts by the Saudi Space Commission are designed to prepare future astronauts and engineers, through quality education and training programs, participation in scientific experiments, international research, and future space-related missions – all of which will contribute to raising the status of the Kingdom and to achieving the goals of Vision 2030.
Iran to reopen diplomatic missions in Saudi Arabia this week
Mission will return under leadership of Alireza Enayati, previously Iran's ambassador to Kuwait
Step comes several months after Tehran and Riyadh agreed to end tensions under Chinese-brokered deal
Updated 05 June 2023
RIYADH: Iran will reopen its diplomatic missions in Saudi Arabia this week, the Iranian foreign ministry spokesman said on Monday.
Tehran's foreign ministry spokesman Nasser Kanani announced the reopening in a statement Monday, confirming earlier comments by a diplomatic source in Riyadh.
“To implement the agreement ..., Iran’s embassy in Riyadh, our Consulate General in Jeddah and our office to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation will be officially reopened on Tuesday and Wednesday,” spokesman Nasser Kanaani said.
The diplomatic mission will return under the leadership of Alireza Enayati, who previously served as Iran's ambassador to Kuwait.
The step comes several months after Tehran and Riyadh agreed to end years of antagonism under a Chinese-brokered deal.
In March, Iran and Saudi Arabia agreed to re-establish relations between the regional rivals whose hostility had threatened stability and security in the Middle East and helped fuel regional conflicts from Yemen to Syria.
How Saudi Arabia’s environmental initiatives are restoring the natural equilibrium
Strides made by the Kingdom in increasing its protected habitats to 30% by 2030 in the limelight on World Environment Day
Initiatives such as SGI offer a road map for increasing vegetation, rehabilitating endangered species, protecting vulnerable habitats
Updated 06 June 2023
JEDDAH: Centuries of abuse by human hands have challenged the globe’s natural cycle of biodiversity. On this World Environment Day, governments are working to restore balance, including in Saudi Arabia, a country with one of the harshest and most diverse natural environments on the planet.
Almost all organisms live in environments altered, to some degree, by human activities, causing habitat loss, species endangerment and extinction, pollution, and more. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations report on the world’s forests in 2022 stated that “as the window for action narrows, and as population growth and aspirations place new demands on physical resources, it seems clear that natural ecosystems are vital assets that must be restored, maintained and sustainably managed.”
Led by the UN Environment Programme since its inception in 1973, World Environment Day, the most influential global platform for environmental outreach, serves as a reminder of the issues and challenges plaguing the world, with millions of people engaging to protect the planet.
Conservation, “the care and preservation of natural resources,” is not a recent phenomenon, though it was undermined and ignored until the 21st century and the harsh realities of climate change became apparent, making crafting environmental policies an increasingly urgent task.
It has often proven to be an uphill challenge. Realizing the consequences of inaction, there have been intense and determined campaigns to further the complex task of defining long-term goals at a time when nature is under assault, to issue guidelines and laws with profound changes in environmental infrastructure, and to promote environmental protection and conservation.
In 2021, the Saudi Green Initiative was launched, an ambitious national plan to combat climate change, improve quality of life and protect the planet for future generations. It coined the term “conservation” with initiatives such as environmental protection, energy transition, sustainability programs, and more under its umbrella. It has become a core message in every ambitious project, company environmental target, and social responsibility goal in less than two years.
Under the SGI, Saudi Arabia has committed to protecting 30 percent of its terrestrial and marine area by 2030. Its targets are clear — emissions reduction, afforestation, and land and sea protection, with 77 initiatives activated. To date, 66,000 sq. km of land and sea are currently protected, over 1,200 animals have been rewilded, and approximately 17 percent of the Kingdom’s land and sea are protected.
Ecosystems, particularly their living components, have always provided the capital to fuel human economies, a notion realized in Saudi Arabia as conservation efforts and development projects go hand in hand.
The Kingdom’s flagship giga-project, NEOM, is considered one of the most ambitious projects with sustainable development embedded in its core values.
While no universally acceptable, practical definition of sustainable development exists, the concept has evolved to encompass three significant points of view: economic, social, and environmental.
The economy is geared mainly toward improving human welfare, the environmental domain focuses on protecting the integrity and resilience of ecological systems, and the social domain emphasizes enriching human life and achievements and strengthening values and institutions.
1,200+ Endangered animals rewilded in 15 Saudi locations.
$25m Fund for efforts to conserve critically endangered Arabian leopard.
8m Hectares of degraded land to be rehabilitated by 2030.
600m Trees to be planted by 2030.
10bn Trees planted is equivalent to rehabilitating 40m hectares of degraded land.
16% Terrestrial and 5.5% marine protected areas.
Speaking to Arab News, Dr. Paul Marshall, head of Nature Region, said that NEOM has embarked on an ambitious and innovative conservation mission that includes “re-greening” and rewilding while committing 95 percent of the project to nature, spanning 26,500 sq. km.
For “re-greening,” NEOM is planting native vegetation and reducing pressure on the landscape from livestock, which will protect and reverse the degradation of the land by planting 100 million shrubs, trees, and other plants by 2030. So far, more than 100,000 plants have been planted, with over 1 million trees, shrubs, and grasses to be planted by the end of 2023.
As for rewilding, it will reintroduce species that were once indigenous to the area but have since declined. Native species will initially be reintroduced to large, enclosed areas, and over time, as the landscape recovers and animal numbers increase, fences will be removed.
“An early indicator of the success of the rewilding project can be seen in the NEOM Nature Reserve’s first breeding season. Working closely with our partner, The National Center for Wildlife, the first release of native animals into our reserve took place in late 2022 with herds of Nubian ibex, Arabian sand gazelle, mountain gazelle and Arabian oryx successfully reintroduced. The total number of babies born this breeding season is 31. This is 23 Sand gazelle babies and 8 Ibex babies.
The achievement is challenging, as he explained that three elements are incorporated into NEOM’s animal distribution modeling. “The first assesses the immediately accessible areas to ensure a healthy and safe release environment, the second analyzes potential dispersal constraints, and the third simulate dispersal through time,” he said.
“For this, we work in conjunction with the plant rewilding team to ascertain where our animals’ potential food sources will be. This helps us model likely dispersal patterns and allows us to plot the regeneration of the reserve.
“In terms of a shift being needed to protect certain species, I think it’s fair to say that a century ago, if we had the tools, knowledge, expertise and capacity that we have now, the Nubian ibex, Arabian sand gazelle, mountain gazelle and Arabian oryx would never have disappeared from the region and would instead be thriving in a vibrant, rich and self-sustaining ecosystem. It is how we envisage NEOM’s land to be and what we are working towards.”
In a statement to Arab News on Sunday, NEOM said “the total number of babies born this breeding season is 31, including 23 sand gazelles and eight (Nubian) ibex. The total number of animals in the NEOM Nature Reserve is now 146.”
With its rich land and marine biodiversity, astounding wildlife, and breathtaking bird migrations passing above the Kingdom’s skies, it is difficult to disconnect the link between science from the initiatives.
There are 15 designated protected areas in Saudi Arabia managed by the National Center for Wildlife, including several royal reserves and natural reserves managed by other authorities that are home to over 10,000 species of animals, nearly 500 species of birds, more than 1,800 species of fish, whale, and dolphin, 330 species of coral reefs, and many more according to NCW.
Like land conservation, marine conservation is considered one of the world’s most pressing scientific issues. From space, Earth is a pale blue dot covered with more than 70 percent water.
According to UNESCO, the ocean functions as a life-support system for our “blue planet,” regulating the climate on a global scale and producing over half of the oxygen we breathe. Despite this, humanity has mistreated these life-giving oceans to the point where around 40 percent of marine ecosystems have been harmed.
Nestled in one of the Red Sea’s lagoons, the King Abdullah University for Science and Technology considers the body of water it neighbors as its biggest and most unique laboratory. and one of the Kingdom’s most vital strategic assets.
Considered one of the saltiest and warmest seas, it provides insight into the environmental stressors the rest of the world’s seas will face in the near future, the director of KAUST’s Red Sea Research Center, Michael Berumen, told Arab News.
“The marine life of the Red Sea has adapted to these challenging conditions, and we seek to understand the mechanisms facilitating this adaptation — ranging from genes and genomes to unique behaviors and physiologies.
“Careful management of Red Sea ecosystems is fundamental for conservation and to ensure that this national treasure remains as healthy as possible for generations to come. Particular attention has been paid to improved management of fisheries and habitat restoration capabilities. Faculty in the RSRC work very closely with KAUST’s Reefscape Restoration Initiative at Shushah Island, arguably the world’s most ambitious coral restoration program,” said Prof. Berumen.
“The lessons learned from the Red Sea can be transferred to many other regions of the world. In line with KAUST’s educational objectives, the RSRC facilitates the training and education of future leaders in marine science through student and postdoctoral support,” he added.
The world’s population is growing, with an estimated increase of nearly 2 billion people in the next 30 years, reaching 9.7 billion by 2050. The trend is toward migration into cities.
By 2050, it is projected that more than two-thirds of the world’s population — close to 7 billion people — will live in urban areas. There is a long-standing dispute about how much population growth causes environmental degradation.
Historical trajectories, local policies, and cultural preferences affect how compact or dispersed residential areas are built. “What is needed are solutions that see nature protected and restored, not spoiled by human development and increased urbanization,” said Marshall.
Saudi Arabia's Heritage Commission discovers ancient Arabic inscription in Najran
The inscription, the sixth-oldest according to the latest records, is located in Al-Haqqan mountain
Ka’b bin Amr bin Abd Manat, an Arabian merchant, initially recorded the inscription around the year 380
Updated 04 June 2023
JEDDAH: One of the oldest known Arabic inscriptions in Saudi Arabia has been discovered during survey work, the Heritage Commission announced.
The inscription, the sixth-oldest according to the latest records, is located in Al-Haqqan mountain at the Hima cultural area of the Najran region in southern Saudi Arabia.
Ka’b bin Amr bin Abd Manat, an Arabian merchant, initially recorded the inscription around the year 380. He came across the inscription while traveling to his home in the northwest of the Arabian Peninsula.
Abd Manat recorded and sealed the Arabic inscription with the date of its implementation according to the Nabataean calendar, using the method of Nabataean symbols with numerical values.
The modern discovery of the Al-Haqqan inscription is a valuable historical addition to the register of early Arabic writings before Islam, the commission said.
The Al-Haqqan inscription also showcases an important stage in the development of Arabic writing.
Several inscriptions across the Kingdom predate the Al-Haqqan inscription, including three in AlUla governorate and another in Najran, as well as others in Jouf and Tabuk.
The discovery is part of the commission’s efforts to discover the heritage of various Saudi regions, as well as preserve protected areas.
The commission also seeks to benefit from antiquities and national heritage as an important cultural and economic resource within the National Strategy for Culture of the Kingdom’s Vision 2030.
With several ancient inscriptions and burial mounds, Hima cultural area is one of the largest open museums in the world. The area is registered in the UNESCO World Heritage List and is one of the most important archaeological sites in the Najran region.
It extends over an area of about 557 km, and includes caves and mountains containing rock art and thousands of inscriptions.
Global Research Council re-elects Saudi Arabia as MENA region chair
The decision came during the 11th annual meeting of the Global Research Council in The Hague, Netherlands
The Kingdom presented working paper on challenges, opportunities faced by research councils in MENA region
Updated 04 June 2023
RIYADH: Saudi Arabia has been re-elected to represent the Middle East and North Africa region on the governing board of the Global Research Council during its 11th annual meeting in The Hague, The Netherlands, the Saudi Press Agency reported on Saturday.
The President of King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology, Dr. Munir Eldesouki, will continue to represent Saudi Arabia at the GRC and his re-election reaffirms the Kingdom’s prominent position in the scientific and research fields and its commitment to enhancing joint cooperation among research centers in the MENA region.
This achievement is also a testament to the unwavering support of King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is head of the Higher Committee of Research, Development and Innovation.
During the annual meeting, which took place from May 29 to June 2, Eldesouki chaired a meeting of the heads of research councils from the MENA region and participated in a panel discussion on the funding of climate change research, in which the participants endorsed a statement to strengthen international cooperation, research outputs, scientific communication, financing strategies, taking into account social and economic conditions, local cultures and knowledge, capacity building in science, innovation and entrepreneurship, and identifying best practices.
Eldesouki, who is also the general supervisor of the founding team of the Research, Development and Innovation Authority, met with a number of heads of international research councils from Singapore, Canada, the US, Turkiye, Britain and Germany to discuss areas of cooperation on the sidelines of the annual meeting.
The Kingdom presented a working paper on the challenges and opportunities faced by the research councils in the MENA region and the delegation participated in a number of other key meetings, including the council’s executive committee, the international consultative committee, and the working groups concerned with equality, diversity and inclusion, responsible evaluation of research, and international multilateral funding.
Saudi Arabia has played a pivotal role in the GRC’s work since its establishment in 2012, including strengthening cooperation between research funding institutions, exchanging best practices and expertise in supporting scientific research, and exploring ways to support the scientific community across the world.
The Kingdom currently occupies the position of vice-chair of the GRC’s board of governors and also represents the regional research councils of the MENA region on the board, as well as on the executive committee.