The United Arab Emirates’ first mission to Mars arrived at the red planet on Tuesday and successfully entered orbit on its first attempt.
The spacecraft, dubbed Hope, launched July 19, 2020, atop a Japanese H-IIA rocket, then spent seven months trekking to the Red Planet. Today (Feb. 9), Hope needed to fire its thrusters for nearly half an hour straight to slow down enough to slip into orbit around the Red Planet, from 75,000 mph to 11,000 mph (121,000 kph to 18,000 kph). Mission personnel on the ground could only watch what happened and hope for the best.
Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, and Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, personally thanked staff from mission control in Dubai.
Sheikh Mohamed said the bright young Emiratis who led the mission were “part of a generation that makes us proud. You took our honour and our reputation up to Mars”.
“Success! Contact with #HopeProbe has been established again. The Mars Orbit Insertion is now complete,” according to a tweet from the mission’s Twitter account at 11:16 a.m. ET.
The UAE made history, becoming only the fifth nation to reach Mars and the first Arab country to do so. Sheikh Abdullah said that the spacecraft reached “the furthest point that an Arab had ever reached, underscoring that the ambitions of the UAE have no limits, and that defying the impossible has become a lifestyle and an approach of the journey in the next 50 years”, Wam reported on Tuesday.
The Hope spacecraft carries three instruments that will allow scientists to study the weather near the surface of Mars, the connections between different layers of the atmosphere, and how Mars loses atmosphere to space. Scientists leading the mission hope that this data will help them understand, for example, how dust storms at the surface of Mars affect atmospheric loss and how weather systems around the globe relate to each other.
The UAE has sped into the space sector: Hope launched a little more than a decade after the nation’s first Earth-orbiting satellite, DubaiSat 1, did so. The nation has pushed space exploration as a way to develop its science and technology know-how and to buffer its economy, which is largely built on oil.
In addition to the Hope mission, the UAE is recruiting new astronauts in the wake, plans to launch a technology lander to the moon in 2024, and has a century-long Red Planet strategy dubbed Mars 2117, which incorporates both terrestrial priorities and long-term exploration goals.
The success represents a tremendous boost to the UAE’s space ambitions. The country’s first astronaut rocketed into space in 2019, hitching a ride to the International Space Station with the Russians. That’s 58 years after the Soviet Union and the US launched astronauts.