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A UAE scientist who aimed for the stars and reached Mars

Sahim Salim/Dubai
Filed on August 28, 2020


The young Emirati led the design and development of the Hope probe's propulsion system.

The engineer responsible for fuelling the UAE's Hope probe to Mars had "never thought" she would end up with a career in space. Ayesha Sharafi, a senior propulsion engineer at the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC), told Khaleej Times that though she was "fascinated" by stars, a career in space was "unthinkable".

"As such, I feel very grateful that what was an unthinkable dream for me is now a possibility for this generation," she said.

The young Emirati led the design and development of the Hope probe's propulsion system, which essentially provides the spacecraft with the fuel and force needed to get into Mars' orbit.

The UAE made history when it launched the Arab world's first interplanetary mission to the Red Planet in July. While over half of the leadership positions of the historic Hope probe are held by women, 34 per cent of the Emirates Mars Mission team are women.

Explaining her work, Ayesha said: "The Hope probe carries 800kg of hydrazine fuel and has a total of 14 thrusters on board. After separation from the rocket, the spacecraft started its seven-month journey towards Mars, in which it uses the propulsion system to correct its trajectory."

Currently cruising at a speed ranging between 110,400 to 122,400kmph, the probe has covered 20 per cent of its journey - equivalent to 130 trips from the Earth to the Moon. It will automatically reduce its speed to 18,000kmph as it gets closer to Mars.

"As we get into our Mars orbit, the propulsion system will be used to slow down the spacecraft to get it captured by the orbit around Mars," said Ayesha.

If its speed isn't slowed down to be captured by the Martian orbit, the probe will slingshot around the Red Planet and continue into deep space. The Emirati, who graduated with a degree in chemical engineering from the American University of Sharjah, started off at the MBRSC as part of its Advanced Aerial Systems Programme.

Talking about the UAE's support, Ayesha said: "The leaders in the UAE always provide us with constant support and empowerment. It is because of their vision that we are able to reach for the stars."

To all the young geniuses out there dreaming of a career in space, the engineer said: "Working on space projects requires a degree in engineering or a scientific major (physics, astronomy, etc.) and strong dedication. Many universities in the UAE have also included aerospace engineering programmes and are involved in space projects. I would encourage students to become familiar with such opportunities and seek them."

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