On July 19, the UAE successfully launched its own Mars mission. The launch was historic and significant for a few reasons. The Mars mission club is a fairly exclusive one and the rate of success for any Mars missions, even orbiter missions, makes the whole affair daunting. With this, the UAE will become the Arab world's first nation to attempt an interplanetary mission. The Hope Probe or Al Amal Probe, as it is called, took off from the Tanegashima Space Centre in Japan on Sunday following a delay earlier in the week due to bad weather. The stated mission of the probe is to orbit Mars for 687 days, a Martian year and send back 'new' data on the Martian atmosphere. It is hoped that the insights gained would help us understand why Mars lost most of its air and water.
UAE's journey to Mars has been at breakneck speeds by all accounts. In 2009 and 2013, the UAE had launched satellites into space. But these satellites had largely been developed as a result of a South Korean partnership due to a lack of local expertise. This time, UAE was determined to go down a different path. In 2014, the country formed its own space agency and made ambitious proclamations about establishing a Mars colony by 2117. UAE scientists were given a clear mandate to achieve a Mars mission by making the probe that would be used in the mission, no foreign-made probe would do for the significant first mission. For acquiring the relevant expertise, the UAE space agency partnered with a team in the US, at the University of Colorado Boulder's Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics. Additionally, to not limit their mission to a simple show of vanity and national pride, they consulted the Mars Exploration Program Analysis Group for an objective they could achieve through the mission. Sarah al-Amiri, the head of the Emirates Science Council has stated that one of the purposes of this mission is to spark the imaginations of the youth in the Emirates and the Arab world in general, leading to a new generation of space explorers that will open up the space club from its currently exclusive nature. The mission also has an interesting side note of pushing many social conventions in the Arab nation. Apparently, 34 per cent of the mission crew is female, the percentage increasing to 80 per cent in regards to the science team.
Still, there are other bigger reasons at play when it comes to such ambitious undertakings. The biggest one is that UAE wishes to establish itself as a force to be reckoned with in the area of science and futuristic prospecting, it wishes to go beyond its traditional sources of revenue, much like Saudi Arabia. Such missions have the purpose of demonstrating progress and acquiring credibility in the limited field of space exploration. India too had a time when it used its Mars mission as a way of breaking into the exclusive Mars club and demonstrate its domestic scientific capabilities when the Mangalyaan mission made India the first Asian nation to reach Martian orbit and also the first nation in the world to do so on its maiden attempt. Such mission shows the intent of a nation in being players in the new space race, very much a 'team' effort with global tie-ups but still tied to the power games of nations. The exciting space adventures this summer have only just begun. Both the USA with its Perseverance Rover and China's Tianwen 1 are expected to launch sometime between late July and early August. The future of the space sector could very well be a global one with more nations coming forth to take part in the rapidly growing sector in an attempt to 'reach the stars'.