UAE’s Mars Probe has ‘changed mindsets’ in region, says top official

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The Hope Probe is scheduled to enter Mars orbit on February 9 after a seven-month journey.

The UAE’s Hope Probe to Mars offered a counterweight to extremism in the Middle East and has helped change the attitudes of students and young people in the region, according to Sarah Al Amiri, the UAE’s Minister of State for Advanced Technology and chair of the UAE Space Agency.

Launched from Tanegashima, Japan in July, the Hope Probe is scheduled to enter Mars’ orbit on February 9 after a seven-month journey.

It will spend one years on Mars – equivalent to 687 days on earth – gathering data on the planet. The probe’s arrival to the Red Planet coincides with the 50th anniversary of the UAE’s foundation in 1971.

To build the spacecraft, the Emirates Mars Mission partnered with a team from the University of Colorado Boulder’s Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP).

In a webinar organised by LASP on Thursday, Al Amiri, pictured below, said that the Mars Probe – named ‘Al Amal’ in Arabic – and the establishment of the UAE’s space agency in 2013 came at an important time in which the region was suffering from a prolonged period of unrest.

“It provided a value proposition that is different from extremism, turmoil and instability,” she said. “That has triggered a lot of thoughts about what is possible, and about using youth positively.”

Al Amiri also said that the project has had the added benefit of helping stimulate interest in STEM – science, technology, engineering and mathematics – programs in the UAE and the wider region.

“We’ve seen a large shift in terms of the mindset of students in the Emirates, and keen engagement,” she added. “One of the primary instigators of the mission [was to] develop a generation capable of designing space missions, and to be a driver in terms of diversifying our economy.”

Looking ahead to the probe’s arrival on February 9, Al Amiri said that the team was optimistic, but warned against thinking that the mission was a total success yet.

“The team has prepared as well as they can possibly prepare,” she said. “There are mixed emotions. There is no end to deep space missions. Every point of celebrations is followed by several points of worry.”

In addition to building a human colony on Mars by 2117, the UAE also announced plans to send an unmanned spacecraft to the Moon in 2024 in late September.

“It will be an Emirati-made lunar rover that will land on the surface of the moon in 2024 in areas that have not been explored previously by human missions,” Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, wrote on Twitter.

Sheikh Mohammed added that the lunar rover will be named “Rashid”, after his father, Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum. If successful, the UAE could become the fourth nation to land a spacecraft on the moon after the US, the then-Soviet Union and China.

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