From launching four Earth observation satellites to sending the first Emirati into space, the UAE is known as the leading Arab country in space exploration in the region. Once again, the nation is shooting for the stars (more like the planets) with the launch of its Mars Hope Probe - Al-Amal in Arabic - on July 15.
With an ambitious goal to build a human settlement on Mars by 2117, the probe's aim is to provide the first full pictures of the Red Planet's climate. Hope is set to blast off from the Tanegashima Space Centre in Kagoshima, Japan, and will orbit Mars for an entire Martian year (687 Earth days).
"Hope Probe will answer the gap in data and understanding of the Red Planet," said Sarah Al Amiri, UAE's Minister of State for Advanced Sciences and Emirates Mars Mission's deputy project manager.
The Emirates Mars Mission (EMM) is set to be the first interplanetary mission in the Arab region to produce the first global weather map of Mars — a goal never before achieved, not even by the rest of the world. As declared by the project's leaders, data will be distributed to some 200 research institutes and be complementary to the work of other missions, including NASA's.
According to EMM, the official countdown for Hope's launch has already started on July 8. However, one critical factor might affect the launch day (July 15, with the option of extending it until early August) and that's the weather. If Hope is not launched during this open window, it will be postponed for two years.
In an interview with The Guardian, EMM's project manager Omran Sharaf emphasized that Hope, which is scheduled to reach the orbit of Mars in February, is all about the survival and future of the UAE and the entire Middle East.
Although there are currently eight other active Mars missions, with three to be launched in July, UAE's Hope mission is promised to be the most intriguing and with the best chances of success. Along with its initial quest of finding answers to problems such as water security on Earth, Hope is particularly aimed at growing and instilling a wider interest in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) in Arab youth.
"The mission created a mindset for the youth that there are opportunities for them to work in areas that they never thought they can work in," said Al Amiri in a webinar with London's Science Museum. "The EMM was a catapult for the UAE venturing into space that will help in the country's transition from a natural and service-based economy to one that's based on creativity and knowledge," she added.
While the country is yet to recover from the impacts of the novel coronavirus pandemic - economic recession, fall in oil prices, and downturn in tourism - UAE leaders consider the project an integral part to the kind of country they are trying to build.
"The aim is to celebrate our 50th anniversary on 2 December 2021 with a very big message by reaching Mars," Sharaf said. "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," he added.
If successful, this mission will show that the Middle East, which is often characterized by instability, dictatorships, and wars, is actually full of brilliant minds committed to facing the unknown with an ambitious vision for the future.