The United Arab Emirates wants to build a city on Mars

Look out, Elon Musk
city on Mars
Sure, a Martian base housing 33 men isn't quite a metropolis, but it's a step in the right direction. A ring around plastic pod houses would capture solar heat, while wind generators would help power an artificial atmosphere. Read the full story in "How We'll Live on Mars" A vision of a metropolis on Mars, from the March 1953 issue of Popular Science.

A little more than 40 years ago, Dubai was a tiny pearl-fishing village lined with dirt roads. Now it’s the largest and most futuristic city in the world, the jewel of the United Arab Emirates (UAE). From manmade, palm tree-shaped archipelagos to jetpack-wearing firefighters and the world’s tallest building, the city has a reputation for taking on insanely ambitious projects and executing them with swiftness and expertise. Now, the UAE has a vision to build an even crazier city—on Mars.

On Tuesday, hot on the heels of the World Government Summit in Dubai, the vice president and prime minister of the UAE and Emir of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammad bin Rashid Al Maktoum, announced the country’s goal of building a “mini-city and community on Mars” with international cooperation.

“We aspire to great things, so my brother Mohammed bin Zayed [the first president of the UAE and crown prince of Abu Dhabi] and I today decided the UAE will join the global effort to send humans to Mars,” Al Maktoum announced, as if going to Mars were as easy as deciding what to have for dinner.

Dubbed “Mars 2117,” the UAE Martian city isn’t slated for construction anytime soon. Rather, Al Maktoum said, “‘Mars 2117’ is a seed we are sowing today to reap the fruit of new generations led by a passion for science and advancing human knowledge.”

Al Maktoum’s announcement didn’t say how the plan would be carried out, but he’s got 100 years to figure out the details. CNBC’s Arjun Kharpal reports that the UAE envisions a Chicago-size city of about 600,000 people.

This isn’t the first time we’ve heard groups making big, unsubstantiated claims about colonizing Mars, and there are plenty of reasons to be skeptical.

hope spacecraft
Created in 2014, UAE’s space agency plans to send an orbiter named “Hope” to Mars in 2021. UAE Space Agency

Mars is not for the faint of heart. To date, only the United States has successfully landed any spacecraft on the red planet, although Russia and Europe have tried. Then there are the challenges of getting astronauts there safely, feeding them, housing them, and keeping them sane.

The UAE’s space agency, created in 2014, plans to send a spacecraft named Hope into orbit around Mars in 2021. The nation doesn’t have its own rockets to launch, but it does have a lot of money—and a track record of making big dreams come true. And, for better or worse, the UAE lacks a lot of the bureaucratic and political structures that can slow NASA’s progress. If there’s anyone who can build a city on another planet, it may be the country that’s built the most extreme city on Earth.