Mars

The UAE's next ambitious project is to build a city on Mars

The planet Mars showing showing Terra Meridiani is seen in an undated NASA image.

The planet Mars showing showing Terra Meridiani is seen in an undated NASA image.  ( REUTERS/NASA/Greg Shirah/Handout )

Stand on the observation deck of the world's tallest building and you'll find yourself gazing out over the UAE city of Dubai, a super-modern, gleaming metropolis built slap in the middle of a desert.

The digital telescopes atop the 830-meter-tall Burj Khalifa let you flick between a live view, a night view, and an intriguing "historic view" that shows how the surroundings used to look around 30 years ago when the first of its several hundred skyscrapers started to go up. Yes, that historic view is mostly sand. In every direction.

With that in mind, perhaps the United Arab Emirates' proposal to build a city on Mars within 100 years doesn't sound like such a daft idea. After all, with the construction of Dubai and the other Emirates, the UAE has already achieved something remarkable in one of the harshest, hottest, driest, and dustiest environments on our own planet.

UAE prime minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum revealed the lofty ambition in a series of recent tweets.

"The project, to be named 'Mars 2117,' integrates a vision to create a mini-city and community on Mars involving international cooperation," the prime minister said.

He described the project as "a seed we are sowing today to reap the fruit of new generations led by a passion for science and advancing human knowledge."

Of course, logistically speaking, building a city on a faraway planet is likely to prove a little more challenging then building one here on Earth, but considering the UAE's already well-known penchant for grandiose projects, perhaps this place more than any other has some chance of actually pulling it off.

The UAE first revealed its interest in Mars in 2014, following up last year with an announcement that it was working with NASA on a range of space projects, one of which hinted at a joint mission to the red planet.

But the UAE isn't the only one talking about colonizing Mars. Elon Musk, head of SpaceX, also has grand plans for the planet.

Speaking at a tech event last year, Musk asked, "Do we want a future where we are forever confined to one planet until some eventual extinction event, however far in the future that might occur? Or do we want to … ultimately be out there among the stars, and be among many planets, many star systems? I think the latter is a far more exciting and inspiring future than the former."

Mars cities aside, the immediate goal is to achieve a manned mission to the distant planet. Besides SpaceX, others showing an interest in getting humans to Mars in the next 20 years include NASA, Japan's aerospace exploration agency, and China's national space body.