The United Arab Emirates’ “Hope” probe on Monday successfully entered Mars’ orbit, making history as the Arab world’s first interplanetary mission.
The probe is designed to reveal the secrets of Martian weather, but the UAE also wants it to serve as an inspiration for the region’s youth.
“To the people of the UAE, to the Arab and Muslim nations, we announce the succesful arrival to Mars orbit. Praise be to God,” said Omran Sharaf, the mission’s project manager.
Officials at mission control broke into applause after the probe entered orbit, visibly relieved after a tense half-hour as the probe carried out a “burn” to slow itself enough to be pulled in by Martian gravity, in what was the most perilous stage of the journey.
Hope is the first of three spacecraft to arrive at the Red Planet this month after China and the US also launched missions in July, taking advantage of a period when the Earth and Mars are nearest.
The UAE’s venture is also timed to mark the 50th anniversary of the unification of the UAE’s seven emirates.
“What you have accomplished is an honour for you, and an honour for the nation. I want to congratulate you,” said Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed after entering the control room.
The probe, named “Al-Amal”, Arabic for “Hope” rotated and fired all six of its powerful thrusters to dramatically slow its average cruising speed of 121,000 kilometres (75,000 miles) per hour to about 18,000 kph.
And as the clock ticked down, Dubai’s needle-shaped Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest tower, lit up in red with blue laser lights, to the backdrop of dramatic music.
Landmarks across the Gulf state have been lit up in red at night and government accounts and police patrol cars emblazoned with the #ArabstoMars hashtag.
– ‘Bigger objective’ –
While the probe is designed to provide a comprehensive image of the planet’s weather dynamics, it is also a step towards a much more ambitious goal — building a human settlement on Mars within 100 years.
Apart from cementing its status as a key regional player, the UAE also wants to engage youth in a region too often wracked by sectarian conflicts and economic crises.
“This project means a lot for the nation, for the whole region, and for the global scientific and space community,” Sharaf told AFP before the launch.
“It’s not about reaching Mars; it’s a tool for a much bigger objective. The government wanted to see a big shift in the mindset of Emirati youth… to expedite the creation of an advanced science and technology sector in the UAE.”
To mark the historic moment, the UAE this week projected onto the Dubai night sky images of Mars’ two moons — Phobos and Deimos — to allow residents “to see what the probe sees”.
Unlike the other two Mars ventures, China’s Tianwen-1 and Mars 2020 from the United States, the UAE’s probe will not land on the Red Planet.
Hope will use three scientific instruments to monitor the planet’s atmosphere, and is expected to begin transmitting data back to Earth in September 2021, to be made available to scientists around the world.