The United Arab Emirates made history in July when the nation launched its very first interplanetary orbiter, called Hope, to Mars. For Sarah Al-Amiri, chairwoman of the UAE Space Agency and the science lead for the Emirates Mars Mission, the successful blast-off felt “surreal.”
“It’s been over six years of hard work,” Al-Amiri told a VICE News in an interview posted on Tuesday. “We’re very grateful that the launch went perfectly.”
Hope is part of a trio of unaffiliated Mars-bound spacecraft that also includes China’s first Mars mission Tianwen-1 and NASA’s Perseverance rover. All three spacecraft will arrive at Mars in February, but Hope will remain in orbit while the other two missions attempt to touch down on the Martian surface.
The UAE orbiter will study the Martian weather system and how it varies across the planet. Al-Amiri and her colleagues hope these observations will reveal insights about the loss of Mars’ atmosphere over time.
When Mars was young, it probably possessed much thicker skies that enabled liquid water—the key ingredient for life—to exist on its surface. Whether or not Mars bore alien life in its early years, the loss of its atmosphere and liquid water has rendered the planet uninhabitable at its surface today. Hope may shed light on this transition, which will have implications for assessing habitability on other worlds in our solar system, and beyond it.
Hope emerged out of a wider effort within the UAE to engage the nation’s younger generations in STEM fields.
“One of the primary reasons that this mission was called Hope is to find a different way of working, and a different way of using the talent of the youth of the region,” Al-Amiri said.