United Arab Emirates


This is Matthew Reyes blogging about the latest Spaceward Bound adventure to the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Spaceward Bound is a unique kind of science and education program. Arguably the first, and one of the best participatory exploration programs founded within NASA, Spaceward Bound aims to bring real, cutting edge science to K-12 students by bringing along school teachers to work on field expeditions. Spaceward Bound tours are not sightseeing field trips; these are hands on, gritty experiences that take place alongside world-renown scientists exploring the world, intent on answering major questions about astrobiology and planetary sciences. More about prior Spaceward Bounds can be found at the NASA Quest Spaceward Bound website.

This trip to UAE is the first Spaceward Bound of 2011 as well as the first to the Middle East. On this expedition we will be exploring a variety of locations throughout the Emirates: salt flats along the Persian Gulf coast, dunes near the Saudi Arabian border, ancient oases in the middle of the desert, and places in between. We start the science adventure in the city of Al Ain, a town that sits near the borader of Oman. With us on this trip will be Spaceward Bound veteran school teacher Dr. Mike Wing, who will be offering his perspective through his personal blog here.

This is my third Spaceward Bound expedition, my first two being in Mojave Desert and Namibia, Africa. As it was during those first two trips, part of my job will be to help share this experience with the public through my favorite past time, my photography. I will try my best to update this blog, my tweets, and perhaps even the occasional YouTube video whenever I have access to the internet.

Of course, to get to UAE, I am going to have to fly about 16 hours from San Francisco to Dubai. The fastest way to get there is by flying a Great Circle route over the north pole. It may seem counterintuitive at first, but I’ll be flying north over Canada and Greenland. At some point over the Arctic Ocean, the flight path will instantly head south toward Norway and Finland. We’ll then fly above the great expanse of  Russia, including Moscow, then toward the strip of land between the Caspian and the Black Seas, including Georgia, Azerbaijan. The last portion of the flight takes us over Iran and the Persian Gulf to land at Dubai International Airport. From there I will need ground transport for two hours to get to Al Ain.

The United Arab Emirates are 12 time zones different than Moffett Field, California, so I am expecting a slow start as I adjust to the new time. Bear with me as I catch up with my sleep.

Finally On my way

(Attention: these blog posts may be hours to days behind schedule as our access to internet is not consistent)

Alas, today’s the day to fly. Much sunnier and more pleasant here in the San Francisco bay area, I am surprised to learn that the weather in Dubai is very similiar this time of year. Okay, maybe a bit drier, but 70-80 degrees F isn’t bad for the Arabian Desert on the Persian Gulf!

Because Emirates Airlines decided to bump me off their overbooked flight, I was given a free seat upgrade to Business Class! These seats are dramatically more expensive than regular economy class in the back, but fortunately this upgrade was free! It will be nice to be able to relax before this action packed week overseas.

Since I like to share everything through social media, I have decided track my flight plan so you can follow along this route. Visit my Everytrail Map to see where I flew and any photos I’ve taken along the way!



False Start

As you might know have seen from my twitter feed , after my colleague Matt Everingham (MattE from now on) had dropped me off at San Francisco International Airport, Emirate airlines informed me they had overbooked their flight and had given me a ‘choice’: Either I could give them my bags and hopefully wait around or a chance at a standby seat, or I could go home, relax, and fly Business Class on Sunday. Although I lose a day in country, the decision was a no brainer.

 Fortunately, MattE was on his way into the city, where he was going to take one of our Cellbot tank rovers for some demonstrations at the grand opening of the new Tech Shop in San Francisco. I gave MattE a quick call and he very generously turned around and picked me back up. We ended up staying the remainder of the day talking with various members of the public, demonstrating the movement and control of our Cellbot, inspiring a lot of interesting people to get into robotics on their own.