Emirati ‘Hope’ probe heads for Mars

DUBAI (AFP) – The first Arab space mission to Mars blasted off from Japan yesterday on a mission to unravel the secrets of weather on the Red Planet.

The unmanned probe named Al-Amal – Arabic for Hope – took off after several weather delays, marking the next step in the United Arab Emirates’ (UAE) ambitious space programme.

Here are some facts and figures about the oil-rich nation’s project, which draws inspiration from the Middle East’s golden age of cultural and scientific achievements.

The UAE, made up of seven emirates including the capital Abu Dhabi and freewheeling Dubai, has nine functioning satellites in orbit with plans to launch another eight in coming years.

Last September, it sent the first Emirati into space – Hazza al-Mansouri, who was part of a three-member crew. They blasted off on a Soyuz rocket from Kazakhstan, returning home after an eight-day mission in which he became the first Arab to visit the International Space Station.

But the UAE’s ambitions go well beyond that, with a goal of building a human settlement on Mars by 2117.

In the meantime, it plans to create a white-domed ‘Science City’ in the deserts outside Dubai, to simulate Martian conditions and develop the technology needed to colonise the planet.

Under a national space strategy launched last year, the UAE is also eyeing future mining projects beyond Earth and space tourism.

The next milestone was the launch of the ‘Hope’ probe, which officials say is designed to inspire the region’s youth and pave the way for scientific breakthroughs.