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On 9 February 2021, the United Arab Emirates made history by becoming the
first Arab country and the fifth country to reach Mars. UAE is the second
country to enter Mars’ orbit on its first try successfully, India being the first
with its Mars Orbiter Mission.
The orbiter was part of the $200m Emirates Mars Mission (EMM) was one of
the three missions launched as part of the 2020 July Mars Launch Window
when Mars was the closest to earth. It was the first to reach Mars, followed
by the Chinese probe Tianwen 1 and the United States Mars 2020 and
Perseverance Rover.
Just three years after, Hazza al-Mansouri became the first Emirati to go to
space aboard the International Space Station (ISS). UAE, a small nation of 9.8
million citizens, has made great strides by progressing from launching Earthorbiting
satellites to a Deep space mission in a matter of six years, rapidly
surpassing expectations of the global community.
Not just Space goals, but the creation of a Knowledge-based economy
Faced with a challenging economic and environmental landscape, the
leadership of this small, oil-rich Gulf state hopes that the Mars project can
help transform them into a knowledge economy.
Aptly named Al-Amal or Hope, the Mars orbiter distinguishes itself as the Arab
world’s first interplanetary spacecraft. Hope probe also meant to encourage
research, programmes in basic sciences and inspire the youth across the Arab
states.
In technical and academic collaboration with the Laboratory for Atmospheric
and Space Physics (LASP) at the University of Colorado Boulder, the
University of California Berkeley and Arizona State University, The United
Arab Emirates Space Agency (UAESA) and Emirati engineers at Mohammed
bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC) in Dubai built, designed and managed the
Hope probe.
The Mission Team
The team designed the Emirates Mars Mission (EMM) to maximize the transfer
of knowledge from LASP to the UAE’s young cadre of engineers and scientists
— a team with an average age of 35. Overall the mission team comprises 200
staff from MBRSC and 150 from LASP. Emirati women make up 34% of the
mission team and 80% of the science team, which is a rare feat on its own.
Among the host of young engineers involved in the mission, we have an Indian
connection with a 24-year-old Aerospace research engineer, Sahith Reddy,
from Karimnagar, Telangana, India. He made us all proud by being part of
this historical mission as the UAE’s National point of contact for Space
Generation Advisory Council to support the United Nations Programme on
Space Applications. Sahith will be involved in the evaluation of the data sent
by the Hope probe.
The Genesis
Joining the global efforts to further humanity’s knowledge of Mars, UAE drew
its mission objectives from the 2020 Mar Exploration Program Advisory Group
(MEPAG) Goals Document.
MEPAG is responsible for providing the science input needed to plan and
prioritize Mars exploration activities. It serves as an International communitybased,
interdisciplinary forum for inquiry and analysis in support of Mars
exploration objectives.
The 2020 MEPAG Goals Document 1 outlines four primary goals:
1. Determine if Mars ever supported life or still supports life
2. Understand the processes and history of climate on Mars
3. Understand the origin and evolution of Mars as a geological system
4. Prepare for human exploration.
Drawing inspiration from MEPAG Goal number II, EMM is designed to orbit
Mars and study the Martian atmosphere’s dynamics globally.
Hope Mars Mission: Science and Objectives
When we see images of Mars today, we see pieces of evidence of Mars being a
wetter planet with a warmer climate billions of years ago. Climate change and
loss of atmosphere are reasons scientists believe led to the planet turning dry
and dusty like the one we see today.
The Hope probe is essentially the First weather satellite of Mars. It will be the
first probe to measure Martian weather changes throughout the day, across
the planet, covering all seasons.
The Hope probe will also measure the distribution of hydrogen and oxygen in
the exosphere (upper atmosphere) of Mars and explore any link between loss
of hydrogen and oxygen from the upper layers of the atmosphere and the
weather changes in the lower atmosphere.
This crucial study will tell scientists more about the planet’s transition over
the period of billions of years from the one sustaining liquid water on the
surface to the one that is now cold, dry, dusty with a very thin atmosphere.
Road to Mars and beyond
From now until April 2023, the Emirates Mars Mission will capture 1TB of
new data. UAE plans to shares these observations and findings freely, with
over 200 scientific and educational institutions worldwide.
UAE already has started working on its next space exploration objectives, and
it has grand ambitions of establishing the first human settlement on Mars as
part of its Mars 2117 programme.
It also has plans to send an unmanned rover named Rashid to the Moon in
2024 and build a research facility called “Mars Science City” in the desert
outside of Dubai that will eventually host analogue missions to Mars.
By investing heavily in space exploration, the UAE hopes to kickstart its
science and engineering sectors to diversify its economy away from oil.
This evolution is not just merely Road to Mars. Rather an opportunity to turn
the nation-state around in ways its founding fathers never imagined and put
a small Arab country as an important partner reckon with amongst the global
space-faring nations’ league.


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