The launch of the Hope probe, the UAE’s first mission to Mars, will help create further opportunities for young people by expanding the Emirate’s space capabilities.

Hope was successfully launched on Monday from Japan’s Tanegashima Space Center. Once the probe arrives after its seven month journey, it will orbit Mars and send back data about its atmosphere. Hope is one of a trio of missions taking off to Mars this year with China and the US also due to launch this month.

Hope will orbit the planet at a distance of 22,000km to 44,000km. Its camera will capture images of the planet’s surface, dust storms and ice clouds enabling researchers to better link the weather with longer-term trends that have shaped the planet. The mission will add to our understanding of how Mars lost much of its air and therefore most of its water.

The UAE has the largest space sector in the region and its hoped that the mission will inspire long term effects with further development of its scientific and technological capabilities and greater involvement in international science and space exploration.

“Space is great for diplomacy”

FINN was able to catch up with HE Dr Mohammed Nasser Al Ahbabi, Director of the UAE Space Agency after the launch. The successful launch has also led to messages of support and congratulation from all over the world, with calls from both space agencies and country leaders on the success of the launch. “Space is great for diplomacy,” he smiled.

The mission has two objectives, firstly to discover more about the Red Planet and secondly to inspire and invest inn the next generation of scientists and technologists. “We re not just using, we are making,” he explained.

As a young nation, the UAE has worked with Colorado Air and Space Port, industry and academia. “This knowledge you cannot buy with money,” said Dr Al Ahbabi, “You have to engage.”

Launch was “hard to describe in words”

While the launch has been a resounding success in putting the UAE’s space ambitions on the map, the journey was just as exciting as the launch. Dr Al Ahbabi said: “I’ve been a number of launches launching graduate satellites, but this time it was an Arabic and it’s headed to Mars so something that it’s hard to describe in words.”

He added that the UAE’s ongoing space programmes, which include satellite launches and astronaut programmes, are all about inspiring the younger generation in the UAE and across the Arab world.

“We are using these products and initiatives and programmes to inspire, to educate and to train you know our young people but also in this in the region and the majority of the population are the youth.”

Dr Al Ahbabi added: “The Mars mission has a scientific mission and well coordinated with the international community will bring good results, for the UAE, but also for humanity. We will gain understanding in time, and learn more about its atmosphere and what happened to that atmosphere.

Protecting our home planet

“We know Mars today is dry and cold so we will know what to predict with our blue matter, if you like, our home plant Earth. By learning what happened to our neighbour, we will be in a better position to know how to protect our home planet.

The launch was delayed from July 15, but Dr Al Ahbabi said July 20 brought the “perfect day.” “Around seven o’clock, the sun was already up and everything was clear – even the weather was cooperating!”

“It was a coincidence that before the sunrise you can see Mars by your naked eyes from the launch site. Even that far from where the rocket is. It’s amazing that you could see Mars with your own eyes, and there was a mission heading to it, and it’s going in a different direction. And so I was talking to the Japanese people I say okay, how can you launch this direction when Mars is that way? But then of course it has to go around the Earth.”

With the launch and transportation happening during the lockdown Dr Al Ahbabi said the logistics of transporting the spacecraft from Dubai to its launch site in Japan had also relied on networking and co-operation to get to the launch site in time.

He added: “It was an historic moment and I think it will open door for a good things in the future.”