Last year the United Arab Emirates (UAE) announced they have ambitious plans for Mars that rival those of Elon Musk and SpaceX: starting with a probe to be launched in 2021 with hopes of a Mars colony by 2117.

Those ambitions may be a few years — or hundreds of years — away, but that doesn't mean the UAE has nothing planned for the near future. Speaking with CNNMoney, Salem Humaid AlMarri, Assistant Director General for Science and Technology at the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Center in Dubai, revealed one of the country's top priorities is training people to go to space.

Although the UAE astronaut program was announced just three months ago, its already received over 3,000 applications. Thousands of Emiratis between the ages of 17 and 67 have applied to be one of the first astronauts to come from the UAE.

As reported by Khaleej Times, Saeed Al Gergawi, program director of the Mars 2117 program, said during a press conference at the World Government Summit the response to the UAE astronaut program has been "overwhelming."

"Around 65 percent of the applications are from those who hold a STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) degree, and 21 percent of them are pilots. So, it's a good mix," added Gergawi.

Additionally, of the applications received so far, 25 percent have been women.

Ultimately, just four Emirati applicants will be chosen for the program. Then they'll spend the next 2-4 years undergoing rigorous training. According to CNN, the Dubai space center is currently in talks with other space exploration organizations and private companies, including NASA, Russia's Roscosmos, and the European space agency, in order to facilitate that training.

"Eventually we will look at sending all of those four over the next 10 to 15 years to the International Space Station and beyond on scientific missions that are linked to our scientific objectives," AlMarri said.

Disclosure: The Dubai Future Foundation works in collaboration with Futurism as a sponsor and does not hold a seat on our editorial board.

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