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Taking Morocco towards Space Exploration: A Conversation with Ismail El-Omari, Space architect and advocate

Space Studies have a tremendous transformative impact on economies and society. The multidisciplinary nature of space studies provides numerous opportunities to drive progress in industries and improve quality of life. In Northern African countries like Morocco, Space is becoming a focus based on a historical commitment. Returning to the message carried by the Apollo 11 mission of the late King Hassan II, which was left on the lunar soil. The country has since launched two national detection satellites, Mohammed VI A and B, and made contributions to scientific discoveries through the Moroccan telescope TRAPPIST-North.

A new generation of Space practitioners is emerging in Morocco and other countries. We spoke with Ismail El Omari, a space architect and advocate representing a community of young professionals striving for a new approach to the field. Ismail is a member of SIDI’s School of Disruption, also participating in the Space Architecture Workshop held in May 2022 at International Space University in Illkirch-Graffenstaden, as the first Moroccan Space Architect.

In this interview, he introduced his career path, giving insights on how integrating Space studies into his own practice has opened new perspectives for him. This supports the growing global and local historical effort to transfer knowledge from Space to Earth.

Hi Ismail, let’s start with your exciting career. Which was your path?

After obtaining my scientific baccalaureate – specializing in physics and chemistry in 2010, I was accepted to the National School of Architecture in Rabat, the only Moroccan public program whose mission since 1980 has been training Architects of the Kingdom of Morocco.
In 2018 and after having been working as a Principal Architect in a private architectural studio, I chose to join the first promotion of an executive master program at the very prestigious Mohammed VI Polytechnic University: ‘Master in Sustainable, Smart and Resilient Buildings & Cities’ while becoming a consultant Architect within the same academic entity.
In 2021, I decided that it was time to start my journey, and this was by creating my own studio of Architecture and Design in my hometown: Agadir. That said, given the love I have for this city that witnessed my growth, I joined the local team of one of the political parties of the Kingdom and succeeded in being elected as a local councilor. My humble achievements after eight years of training and varied experiences will be the tools to give back to this city that has given me so much. As I write these words, my colleague and best friend Mehdi Harrak and I have launched a startup specialized in parametric design and additive technologies.

How has your personal and professional interest in Space matters has raised?
My interest in the field of space exploration and aeronautics has always been a massive box of wonders for me, and this since my childhood. I am convinced that this field is THE only one that will unite all nations and all the people of our planet; Space exploration will succeed where politics has failed. For six years now, I have been reading a lot of articles and reports from international space agencies; I have been watching hundreds of videos where different stages and different events of the history of space programs are related while appreciating the various shades, colors, shapes, mathematical generalities that the exciting world of Astronomy and Space Exploration offers.

How will they be essential for new disruptive perspectives in innovation and society?

I am convinced that the field of Space Exploration is a matrix where every human being will find a multitude of answers to his own questions, whether scientific, social, personal, or even religious in some cases. The variety of occupations in our current societies means that the enormous diversity of the field of Space Exploration can be a considerably interesting tool for enriching each discipline separately but also for gathering many of them around a multitude of themes. How will humans be able to appreciate Art in all its magnificence in the Martian environment? How will Architecture be able to redefine itself to design a comfortable interstellar travel habitat for humans? How will the craftsmanship that humanity has accumulated over thousands of years be able to enrich the shapes and colors of the clothes or tools that our astronauts will use on the lunar international space station? These are only three questions among thousands of others, which make that any type of expert profile at the level of our societies will be able to contribute to the scientific, artistic, societal, and technical enrichment of the space exploration world.

Your activity seems like a kind of “advocacy” for Space Topics in your Country: Tell us about the engagement of Morocco in Space.  

My country’s commitment goes back to a symbolic act that honors me as a Moroccan, which is the message carried by the team of Apollo 11 mission of his late Majesty King Hassan II and left on the lunar soil. This is an excerpt: May this spirit of peace permeate the Earth, and may the advancement of science enrich the great brotherhood of humankind.
In 2001, the Royal Center for Space Remote Sensing, a national entity in charge of studies and space programs, studied and launched in partnership with international partners ZARKAE AL YA MAMA – The Moroccan TUBSAT mounted on Zenit-2 rocket.
Since then, two national detection satellites’ Mohammed VI A’ and ‘Mohammed VI B’ have been launched from the space center of French Guiana on Arianespace VEGA rockets.
In the meantime, many Moroccan engineers and scientists working for government space agencies such as NASA or ESA regularly schedule training and initiation sessions in Morocco; the best known is Mr. Kamal Oudrhiri, head of the planetary studies department at NASA.
It goes without saying that the Moroccan telescope TRAPPIST-North, located at the observatory of Oukaimeden, continuously contributes relentlessly to scientific discoveries. The most emblematic of them is the contribution to the discovery of 3 of the seven planets orbiting the dwarf star TRAPPIST-1 in 2017.
The Kingdom of Morocco, my country, and I am sure, can contribute significantly to an even more effective integration of Africa in the various space programs and ensure a more sustainable and resilient development through the technological and scientific advances that the world of Space Exploration can offer.

From your words and your work, they seem to be a kind of “advocacy activity” regarding Space topics and studies. Would you talk about it?

I will answer you in the most straightforward way possible: A friend of mine, an engineer by training, and I have created the Moroccan Association for Space Studies. An entity whose primary mission will be to promote the world of Space Exploration among children and young people of my city and my country. We hope that through this association, we will be able to prepare the future executives of the future Royal Space Agency of Morocco.

How was your experience with the School of Disruption?

My experience with the School of Disruption has been a disruptive one! Being one of the first to complete the SOD e-course ‘Space Architecture and Design’ almost a year ago has allowed me to be sure that the transversality of the space exploration world is real. The proof? In less than a year, we have been able to create a national organization to bring the children of my city and my country a little closer to this world that they consider a fairy tale; Thanks to you!

What do you think about integrating solutions like the courses hosted by the SoD in a career path?

Nowadays, many people want to innovate and conceive new perspectives on their jobs, and I am sure that SOD e-courses can be a significant asset for that!

School of Disruption is launching DEEP IMPACT, a program providing developing countries’ students Scholarships for its e-courses. An action aiming at empowering tertiary education opportunities for everyone, especially in early-stage topics like the ones shared by our experts in our offering. What do you think about the program?

As a southern-Hemisphere Space exploration researcher and as a space architecture researcher from Morocco, Africa, the relevance of the objectives of the DEPP IMPACT program is as crucial for Africa’s sustainable development as it is for the development of the various scientific programs presented by the SOD e-courses on the African continent. Let me explain. In Architecture, the additive technology of 3D printing can solve one of Africa’s significant urban and climatic challenges by offering 3D printing programs in clay (a local African material); the SOD ‘3D printing’ e-course can be a program that will set this dynamic.

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