The Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has unveiled an ambitious 10-year space programme, a first for the country that highlights Ankara’s plans to compete with other countries both on the world stage and beyond.
Speaking on Tuesday evening during a live televised event laced with special effects, the president said the first goal of the comprehensive programme was to make contact with the moon in 2023, the centennial of the founding of the Turkish republic.
Other missions include sending Turkish astronauts into space, building a Turkish spaceport, and developing sophisticated satellite and meteorology technology.
“I hope that this roadmap, which will carry Turkey to the top league in the global space race, will come to life successfully,” the president said.
“Our feet will be on Earth but our eyes will be in space. Our roots will be on Earth, our branches will be up in the sky.”
Under Mr Erdogan’s leadership, Turkey has sought to re-establish itself as a world power. The successful expansion of the Turkish space agency (TUA) would make the country one of just a handful worldwide capable of space exploration.
The timing of the president’s announcement, on the same day that a probe built by Turkey’s regional rival the United Arab Emirates successfully entered Mars’s orbit, was not lost on observers.
Turkey founded its space agency in December 2018 after the ruling Justice and Development party (AKP) made the project an election campaign promise earlier that year, but Turkey’s extraterrestrial aspirations have had trouble getting off the ground so far because of both the project’s complexity and Turkey’s economic crisis.
Critics have pointed out the astronomical costs associated with space programmes, while TUA’s supporters say it will create technical and highly specialised jobs and reduce the brain drain of emigrating scientists and researchers.
The president did not share budget details for the space agency’s programming during Tuesday’s speech.
Turkey has enjoyed rapid success in domestically produced drone and rocket technology over the last few years, which has made significant contributions to military campaigns in Libya, Syria, Iraq and Nagorno-Karabakh.
The state-owned rocket and missile manufacturer Roketsan announced it had successfully test-launched a sounding rocket into space in November last year.
In January, Mr Erdogan had a telephone call with Elon Musk, the chief executive of SpaceX, the private US space exploration company, about technological co-operation with Turkish companies.
In co-operation with SpaceX, Ankara launched the next-generation Türksat 5A communications satellite, which will be used for both civilian and military purposes, into orbit from the US later the same month.
A metal monolith-like structure that mysteriously appeared and disappeared on Tuesday in the southeast of Turkey turned out to be a publicity stunt related to the launch of the country’s space programme.
A 3m-high metal slab with the inscription “Look at the sky, you will see the moon” written in ancient Turkic script was found in a field last week by a farmer in Sanliurfa province, near the Unesco world heritage site of Göbekli Tepe – megalithic structures thousands of years older than Stonehenge.
The structure vanished on Tuesday morning, but an image of it was projected behind the president and he referenced the inscription during his speech later that day. – Guardian