Image via NASA
Image via NASA
In a little under a month, a desert country with a population of less than 10 million people and which, until six years ago didn’t even have a minister for science, will attempt to go to Mars.
It seems almost absurd, given the complexities of going to the red planet and the reality that around half of all such attempts end in very expensive and spectacular failure.
Nevertheless, the United Arab Emirates — a confederation of seven of seven emirates including Abu Dhabi and Dubai — is taking up the challenge.
It aims to have its Emirates Mars Mission, also referred to by some as the Hope Mars Mission because its probe is named Hope, reach the red planet by December 2021, which marks the end of the country’s 50th anniversary.
While the UAE is by no means short of money to throw at the project, given its vast oil wealth, the massive achievement if the mission is successful should also not be underestimated.
For one, it is the Arab world’s first interplanetary mission and its success would give a huge boost to a region of more than 420-million people that is often view by the rest of the world as being characterised by instability, dictatorships and wars.
“The aim is to celebrate our 50th anniversary on 2 December 2021 with a very big message by reaching Mars,” Omran Sharaf, the Project Lead told the Guardian newspaper.
“It will be a message not just to Emirati youth, but to Arab youth. This region has more than 100-million youth. This is a region that more than 800 years ago used to be a generator of knowledge, an example of coexistence and cooperation, of people of differing faiths building the region. The moment we stopped doing that, we went backwards.”
The Emirates Mars Mission is a Mars orbiter developed in Dubai in partnership with the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado in the US.
Others providing key technical support include the Arizona State University and the Space Sciences Laboratory at Berkeley, California. The rocket itself is to be launched at Japan’s Tanegashima space centre.
The orbiter will begin studying the Martian atmosphere in late 2021 and its aim is to build the first full picture of Mars’ climate throughout a Martian year, which lasts 687 Earth days.
It will not land on the surface of the planet, but remain in orbit above it.
Despite not landing, the mission is very complex, far trickier than the UAE’s previous space involvement.
The UAE has already launched three earth observation satellites, initially in conjunction with South Korea. Last year it sent an astronaut, Hazzaa al-Mansoori, to the International Space Station.
Among the challenges for the Emirates Mars Mission is a very specific launch window, which opens on July 15 this year and closes on August 3. Miss that and it’s impossible to reach Mars. The entire mission would then need to be delayed until September 2022.
No time for missing widgets, broken gidgets or not being able to find the thingy-whatsit. The world, Arab and otherwise, will be watching.