The first Arab space mission to Mars, an uncrewed probe dubbed “Hope,” yesterday blasted off from Japan on a mission to reveal more about the atmosphere of the Red Planet.
The Japanese rocket carrying the probe developed by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) lifted off from the Tanegashima Space Center in southern Japan right on schedule at 6:58am.
The launch of the probe, known as “Al-Amal” in Arabic, had twice been delayed because of bad weather, but yesterday’s liftoff appeared smooth and successful.
Photo: AFP / Mitsubishi Heavy Industries
An hour later, a live feed showed people applauding in the Japanese control room as the probe successfully detached.
In Dubai, the launch was met with rapturous excitement and blanket media coverage, with the Burj Khalifa — the world’s tallest skyscraper — lit up hours before liftoff with a symbolic 10-second countdown in anticipation.
“We proudly announce the successful launch of the Hope probe,” Dubai’s ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum said in a tweet.
“The ground control station in Dubai has received the first signal from the probe after its solar panels were successfully deployed to charge its batteries. Our 493 million km journey to the Red Planet starts here,” he wrote.
Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan said the country watched the launch with “pride and joy,” as the nation embarked on a “new chapter in space.”
Only the US, India, the former Soviet Union and the European Space Agency have successfully sent missions to orbit the fourth planet from the sun, while China is preparing to launch its first Mars rover later this month.
The Emirati project is one of three racing to Mars, including Tianwen-1 from China and Mars 2020 from the US, taking advantage of a period when the Earth and Mars are nearest.
“Hope” is expected to enter Mars orbit by February next year, marking the year of the 50th anniversary of the unification of the UAE, an alliance of seven emirates.
Unlike the two other Mars ventures scheduled for this year, it would not land on the Red Planet, but instead orbit it for a whole Martian year, or 687 days.
While the objective of the UAE’s mission is to provide a comprehensive image of the weather dynamics, the probe is a foundation for a much bigger goal — building a human settlement on Mars within the next 100 years.
Dubai has hired architects to imagine what a Martian city might look like and build it in its desert as “Science City,” at a cost of about US$135 million.
The UAE also wants the project to serve as a source of inspiration for Arab youth, in a region too often wracked by sectarian conflicts and economic crises.
“This mission is an important milestone for the UAE and the region,” said Yousuf Hamad Al-Shaibani, director of the UAE’s Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Center, at a post-launch press conference in Japan. “It has already inspired millions of youth regionally to dream big and work hard to achieve what seems to be impossible.”
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