Rayan Abdelbaki

Our country, Lebanon, did not have dreams for several years and was under the shadows of corrupt geopolitics and environmental trauma. For several years, I believed in the myth of a third world country: that Lebanon would never rise to the wonders of the United Arab Emirates, United States, or Europe. I graduated high-school in 2017 and was made to start university in January 2018 at the American University of Beirut. Note: I was made. Like all my other friends, I had dreams about studying abroad and that studying in my poverty-stricken country would be a setback to my dreams of working for a major space agency and changing the world. Before leaving, a friend told me to stop chasing for opportunities, and instead make them happen.

After his advice, my outlook on Lebanon completely changed, especially after discovering its incredible entrepreneurial scene (2nd in the Middle East in terms of number of entrepreneurs), and the incredible futuristic livelihood it delivered in Beirut. A scene that I would only discover very late in my teenage life since our family did not live in the city. Slowly, I formed a startup of my own, with two excellent engineering students, and began networking with the great entrepreneurs and social innovators changing the world, as well as discovering competitions, world-leaders, and fantastic individuals. I also learnt that Egypt has an incredible entrepreneurial environment, despite being seen as less developed in the eyes of the West. Syria, despite its horrible crisis, has female entrepreneurs driving to make other women capable of launching startups. The media leaves out the positive, and communicates only the negative.

One amazing individual stated that despite Lebanon being described as a place of political turmoil in the media, it was beaming with creatives, artists, scientists, humanitarians, entrepreneurs, and many more. Then, in my university, I heard of a fantastic group known as the Lebanese Aerospace and Automotive Engineering Society (LAAES) attempting to carry on the legacy of the Lebanese Rocket Society: Lebanon’s ignored space programme back in the sixties. Over fifty years later, Manoug Manougian’s passion manifested in the early but excellent LAAES, and I vowed to eliminate the notion of a third world country. Why should a country’s dreamers be silenced by corrupt political and governmental figures unaware of the ‘Western’ spirit many of these youth bear? I decided to apply to become SGAC National Point of Contact (NPoC), and immediately after garnering the role I began to break down doors, emailing small space communities within Lebanon, and venturing out into the open world. I intend to complete so much and I believe I will take this country to Mars, Proxima Centauri, and so much more. However, it is not just Lebanon that I dream for, but every country buried under the notion of being too third world. Note that third world country does not necessarily mean poor, but simply undeveloped, such as in STEM. This also includes Kuwait, my former home and a country that just recently began a space group of its own looking to build a suborbital rocket.

Just like how Dr. King wanted people of colour to have citizenship, I want space to be an inclusive environment. NASA, ESA, Roscosmos, JAXA, and the United Arab Emirates Space Agency litter space history with achievements that I as a child wanted to be part of. However, I was limited by the tree that decorates my passport, Mohammad was limited by the eagle on his passport, Maryam was limited by the ships on hers. All for a race to see who will feed the Moon or Mars with a pole and a few diagrams on fabric. The notion of a space race is the reason why funding for space exploration is gradually dying, and no matter how many congresses and symposiums we have driving for space inclusivity and international cooperation, we cannot follow a bottom-up approach. We need a top-down approach, and it begins with the elite space agencies, not a council of amazing youth. Despite our amazing roles as NPoC’s and members of an incredible space council, it is time that the leaders act.

China has announced an incredible initiative to involve more international astronauts on its missions, announcing an invitation for international pioneers to undergo studies on its soon to be installed space station. Although NASA established international partnerships in the past, it was still very exclusive or elitist. Only American citizens could venture into outer space or could take upon the grander activities. NASA also formed partnerships with the already established and strong. But what about the countries that require the help of an adult? Countries capable of growing and beaming with young talent, but unable to reach out least be hit by the nationalist wall.

We cannot stay on the ground.

We deserve more, and all we ask for is a little help. An opportunity for the talented to realise their potential. An opportunity to give back to their own communities whilst helping improve others. Egotistical altruism. We are not talking about outsourcing here, we are talking about collaboration. We are talking about unity.

I have a dream to one day see flags prefixing a space mission, where instead it is the scientific and artistic minds of the many collaborating on our right to exist on extraterrestrial bodies.

I have a dream to create a real life copy of the International Mars Science Foundation, with one crew on that Daedalus mission coming from a variety of nationalities. I have a dream to succeed and fail together until we find extraterrestrial life and see to it that we advance up the Kardashev scale. The character of Robert Foucault inspired me, and told me that your country of origin should not dictate your capabilities.

The common saying ad astra is Latin, which was the mother of so many languages, a symbol of the cooperation that space forces us to have, and to this I say the dream officially begins now.

Ad Astra!