Hope Probe, one year on: Reliving the UAE's milestone Mars mission



Dubai - The Arab world's first interplanetary mission blasted off on July 20, 2020.


Nandini Sircar

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Published: Mon 19 Jul 2021, 2:23 PM

Last updated: Mon 19 Jul 2021, 8:02 PM

It's been a year since the Arab world's first interplanetary mission blasted off from Japan's Tanegashima Space Centre to space at 1:58 am (UAE time) on July 20, 2020.

For many Emiratis, the feat is summed up in the name of the craft – Al-Amal – the Arabic word for Hope.

Two attempts to launch the probe had been called off due to adverse weather before it finally took off.

For Emirati scientists and political leaders, the mission represented a new chapter for a part of the world with a rich history of scientific discovery.

"It was an indescribable feeling," Sarah bint Yousif Al Amiri, Minister of State for Advanced Technology and Deputy Project Manager and Science Lead of the UAE's Mars Mission of the Hope Probe, had said after the launch.

"This is the future of the UAE."

The successful launch of Hope Probe is the first step towards the UAE's ambitious goal of setting up a city on the Red Planet by 2117.

Recalling the success of the mission, Omran Sharaf, Project Director of the EMM, at the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC), said he felt "lucky" and "honoured" and appreciated being able to experience something like this in his career.

"I felt a sense of relief and was in shock at the same time, to be honest. The seven years passed very fast," he said. "This journey was filled with challenges… but because of the ownership that the team took and the support of the leadership of this country, we were able to reach this point."

"I still feel the weight of the mission, but the stress has receded. Besides, the way the public reacted to the mission was a huge reflection of how important it was for everyone", pointed out Sharaf.

Although the Covid-19 pandemic had posed substantial challenges to the project with the risk of the mission getting delayed, the Emirati team of space engineers at The Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC) had sprung into action to combat all odds.

Sharing an incident during the course of the mission that had left an indelible mark on Sharaf, he later said, "Covid-19 is something that I will always remember, and it was a tough time in the mission. One of the reasons the team managed to deliver this mission on time was the team's proactiveness in identifying the risks. As a team, you need to have an agile and flexible mindset. To be able to adjust and focus on the problem is key, then look at finding solutions rather than going into a panic mode."

"I wasn't sure when I was young if that would be possible because at that time, the UAE as a country was not developed in space technology. We were users and operators of space technologies, but not developers."

While the mission carries the great symbolism as the first interplanetary voyage undertaken by an Arab country, it also reiterates the Islamic Golden Age that had witnessed Arab and Muslim scientists make great strides in fields such as mathematics, astronomy, medicine and philosophy.

Dr Nidhal Guessoum, a professor of Physics at American University of Sharjah, along with UAE astronaut Hazzaa Al Mansouri, was named among the top 100 leaders in space exploration for 2021.

"The decision to send a probe to Mars, to send an astronaut to conduct experiments onboard the International Space Station (ISS) and a bid to send a rover to the Moon in a few years augur well for the UAE," he said.

"The country's vision is uncommon and unprecedented for the Arab world."

The probe successfully entered the Martian orbit on February 9, 2021, creating another spatial milestone for the country. It has commenced its two-year science mission. The data it gathers will be shared with the larger scientific community across the world.

Meanwhile, the mission has also inspired the youth. "It shows that our students don't need to be in the West to succeed and be recognised. An individual's diligent efforts will be seen and hailed by others elsewhere. It is a great encouragement for us all here, in the field of space and beyond", adds Guessoum.

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