The United Arab Emirates (UAE) plans to grow food on Mars, and the aim is to raise tomatoes, lettuce, strawberries and date palms inside giant domes on the Red Planet.

At the Dubai air show (12 to 16 November), the country first announced plans to send a probe to Mars with the help of Japan's space agency Jaxa by 2020. The idea is to begin colonisation of Mars through agriculture in partnership with Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, reports the BBC.

The United Arab Emirates Space Agency (UAESA) was founded in 2014 and is currently developing the country's space industry. While it is yet to build a rocket or launch satellites into space, work on the "Hope" spacecraft has already started. According to the UAESA, its size and weight will be that of a small car. This will be the country's primary Mars probe.

"There are similarities between Mars and the desert," said Rashid Al Zaadi, senior strategic planner at the UAE Space Agency. "The landscape of the UAE, the soil, are similar."

On why the UAE is looking at agriculture on Mars, he said: "Well, when we get there, we'll have to eat." Also, the mix of plants chosen may appear random, but it has been scientifically proven that these can be grown on Mars, he said, adding that the date palm will be grown there for its symbolic link with the region.

The UAE's proposed Mars foray is seen as part of the Arab world's new thrust on investing in science and technology. "It's about creating a post-oil, knowledge-based, creative-based economy. So it is important we become a well-established scientific centre. We have created many engineers, but not many scientists. This [Mars project] is a purely scientific mission," said Al Zaadi.

A full-scale mock-up of the UAE's domed city was also unveiled at the air show. If taken to Mars, each dome will cover an area of 1.9 million square feet and cost $140m (£104m) to build.

To begin studying the colonisation of Earth's closest planetary neighbour, the UAE has started construction of a Mars Science City, a domed research facility in the desert designed to look into the food, water, and energy necessities that humans might require on Mars. The UAE reportedly plans to get people to Mars within the next 100 years.