The United Arab Emirates successfully launched its first mission to Mars on Monday as part of a seven-month journey aimed at studying the planet’s weather. The move marks the Arab world’s first interplanetary venture and is one of three missions to Mars set to take off this summer.
The Hope Probe blasted off from Japan’s Tanegashima Space Center at 6:58 a.m., Japan Standard Time, after being rescheduled from its initial launch date of July 14th. Once the spacecraft travels through deep space, it will attempt to orbit Mars, collecting data on the planet’s atmosphere and climate for one Martian year.
“Years of hard work and dedication have paid off in a big way,” Yousef Al Otaiba, the UAE ambassador to the United States, said during a livestream following the launch. “Thanks to the mission team efforts, the [U.A.E.’s] first spacecraft, which six years ago was just a concept, just an idea, is now flying into space well on its way to another planet.”
The timing of the launch is vital to the success of the mission. Intended to celebrate the U.A.E.’s 50th anniversary in December 2021, the probe needed to be launched now in order to be in orbiting Mars by the celebration
Taking advantage of a specific time window, the journey to Mars will take less time than under normal circumstances. During the window, which occurs every 26 months, the two planets are closer together, making the journey between Earth and Mars shorter.
The United States and China plan to send their own respective missions to Mars later this summer, taking advantage of the short window of time. On July 23rd, China intends to launch a Martian orbiter, a lander and a rover to the Red Planet. Later in the summer, NASA is set to launch the Perseverance rover, which will dig up samples. The specimen will later be returned to Earth and examined for signs of past life on the planet.
The U.A.E.’s interplanetary mission was first announced in 2014 by Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the country’s president. Previously, the country launched satellites in 2009 and 2013 in collaboration with South Korean partners.
Although the United Arab Emirates Space Agency was only founded in 2014, the country has set ambitious goals, including the establishment of a Mars colony by 2117. Government officials have previously spoken of the space agency as a catalyst for developing the country’s technology and science sectors.
“The Emirates Mars Mission is a strategic investment in our human capital and an investment in our human capital is a winning investment,” said Shaikh Mohammad bin Rashid, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the U.A.E. and Ruler of Dubai, at an official 2015 event announcing the project’s details. “Future generations will reap the rewards of our investment in science and knowledge.”
While at the 2015 event, Rashid said the launch of the probe would send the message that Arab civilization will once again once play a great role in contributing to human knowledge. Furthermore, Rashid added comments of support for other Arab countries.
“The second message is to our Arab brethren: that nothing is impossible, and that we can compete with the greatest of nations in the race for knowledge,” Rashid said.
The launch of the Hope Probe marks the first mission to Mars by any West Asian, Arab, or Muslim majority country.
Before the project is declared a success, the probe first needs to reach Mars. To do so, engineers will complete a series of maneuvers to correct Hope’s path to the Red Planet, burning the spacecraft’s onboard thrusters and nudging the probe along in space.
Aside from developing the U.A.E.’s STEM industry, data from the probe could also explain changes in Earth’s atmosphere over millions of years as well as analyze the atmosphere for planets across the galaxy, determining what conditions are necessary to support life.
“It’s an [honour] to be part of the global efforts to explore deep space,” tweeted the official Hope Mars Mission account after the launch. “The Hope Probe is the culmination of every single step that humans have taken throughout history to explore the unknown depths of space.”
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