NOTE TO READERS:
This article has been updated to reflect a delay in the launch of Hope Probe, originally scheduled for 12:51:27 a.m. UAE time on Wednesday.
DUBAI: Our fascination with space knows no bounds. The desire to unravel the secrets and mysteries of the universe has for decades encouraged nations to push the ever-increasing limits of scientific and technical knowledge as they strive to explore the unknown.
There have been a number of historic landmarks along the way, including the successful launch of the Sputnik 1 satellite in 1957, Yuri Gargarin’s Earth orbit in 1961, and the first moon landing in 1969.
To this illustrious list, we can now add the first interplanetary expedition from an Arab country, with the UAE launching the Emirates Mars mission on Monday.
The unmanned probe, called Hope, took off from the Tanegashima Space Center in Japan early Monday and began its 495 million kilometer journey to the Red Planet. “
“The cost of the Hope Mars mission [has] reached $ 200 million, which is considered one of the lowest in the world compared to similar programs, ”Mohammad Al-Gergawi, UAE Minister of Cabinet Affairs and Future, said in a posted message on Twitter by the Prime Minister’s Office.
The Hope probe, which was launched by a Mitsubishi Heavy Industries H2A rocket, weighs 289 tons and stands 53 meters high.
It is expected to enter orbit around Mars in February 2021, in time for the 50th anniversary of the founding of the United Arab Emirates.
“This mission embodies the [UAE’s] aspirations, sends a positive message to the world and demonstrates the importance of continuing unabated despite obstacles and challenges, ”said Sarah Al-Amiri, Minister of State for Advanced Science and Deputy Project Manager of the Emirates Mars Mission.
This historic moment for the region follows decades of preparation and work to realize a grand vision defined in the 1970s by the founder of the United Arab Emirates, the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al-Nayhan. His interest in space was sparked by a meeting in 1976 with NASA astronauts who had flown in a number of Apollo missions to the moon.
US President Richard Nixon also presented Sheikh Zayed with a gift from a moon rock collected in the Taurus-Littrow Valley during the 1972 Apollo 17 mission. This relic, which remains the last moon landing to date, is exhibited at the Al-Ain Museum.
Shortly thereafter, Sheikh Zayed sent a clear message to his people and the world that Emirati curiosity and ambitions for space exploration knew no bounds. So began the country’s journey into space.
In 2006, the United Arab Emirates began working closely with universities and space agencies around the world to set up knowledge transfer programs, with the goal of someday sending a spacecraft to Mars.
However, it wasn’t until the United Arab Emirates Space Agency was established in 2014 that the world really started to sit down and take notice of the country’s ambitious space exploration plans.
In 2017, Hazza Al-Mansouri, a 34-year-old military pilot, was one of two people selected from 4,000 applicants to join the agency’s first corps of astronauts.
After rigorous mental and physical tests, he trained in Russia under an agreement between the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Center and the Russian space agency Roscosmos.
The UAE’s first astronaut joined the crew of a Soyuz MS-15 spacecraft that took off on September 25, 2019 for the International Space Station.
Al-Mansouri’s eight-day mission ended on October 2, when he landed safely in Kazakhstan, after which he proudly declared that he had returned with “Sheikh Zayed’s space mission accomplished” .
Thirty-four years earlier, in June 1985, Royal Saudi Air Force pilot Prince Sultan bin Salman became the first Muslim and Arab in space when he flew on the STS-51-G mission of the American space shuttle Discovery. He was also the first member of a royal family in space and, at the age of 28, the youngest to fly on the space shuttle.
Two years later, Syrian military aviator Mohammed Faris joined the Soviet Interkosmos training program and flew as a research cosmonaut on the Soyuz TM-3 mission to the Mir space station. He spent seven days, 23 hours and 5 minutes in space.
Today, 51 years after the first moon landing, a team of Emirates is leading a mission to the Red Planet and will oversee all aspects of the Hope spacecraft, a task that has been complicated by the global COVID-19 pandemic .
As a result, the mission team was divided into three groups, considering the challenges of transportation, travel, logistics and the need to follow proper health precautions.
Members of the first group arrived in Japan on April 6, where they underwent mandatory quarantine and health tests. The second team followed on April 21. The third team will remain in the United Arab Emirates, providing support and support for the mission.
To allay concerns about the security of a mission to Mars during the pandemic, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum, Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates and ruler of Dubai, reviewed the final preparations for the mission on the 1st. July.
He confirmed the launch date and described the mission as “an achievement for every Arab and a source of pride for every Emirati”.
For his part, Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed Al-Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai, said: “Hope Probe highlights our national treasure of hundreds of young Emirati engineers and experts …. (It) represents a message of hope and optimism for humanity.
Suhail Al-Dhafri, deputy project manager of the Emirates Mars mission and head of spacecraft, said the probe had undergone a series of tests since arriving at the Tanegashima Space Center in April.
Carried out over 50 working days, they included functional testing of spacecraft subsystems such as power supply, communications, altitude control, command and control, propulsion, thermal control and software systems.
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“Final checks are important steps to ensure that all systems are functioning and meeting requirements prior to refueling,” he said. “Obtaining these parameters is essential before preparing the probe for takeoff according to our launch window.”
After entering orbit around Mars, the Hope spacecraft will study the planet’s daily and seasonal cycles, as well as the erosion of the Martian atmosphere, a process that leaves the planet waterless and ill-suited to life.
The UAE will share the data it collects with more than 200 academic and scientific institutions around the world for free.
The UAE intends to establish the first human settlement on Mars by 2117. This month, Sheikh Mohammed announced the launch of the Arab Space Pioneers program, which aims to advance Arab expertise in the sciences and space technologies.
In a three-year program, young Arab researchers, scientists, inventors and creatives will acquire the skills necessary for careers in the expanding space sector.
The United Arab Emirates vows to keep the world on its toes with its goal of establishing the first habitable human settlement on Mars by 2117 – one that can only be achieved through the expertise and determination of future generations .