Emiratis brimmed with joy and pride as the United Arab Emirates made history on Monday by successfully launching its spacecraft "Al Amal" towards Mars from a Japanese launch centre, marking the Arab world's first interplanetary mission.
Al Amal, or Hope Probe, weighing 1.3 tonnes was launched from the H-2A rocket from Japan's remote Tanegashima spaceport at 1.58 am local time.
The ground control room in Dubai erupted with joy after the successful lift off.
Hundreds of scientists, space enthusiasts and the UAE's leadership cheered as the upper stage containing the probe separated from the launch rocket, the protective shields and its solar panels were deployed with clockwork precision.
The solar panels will charge the batteries of the spacecraft for its 495,000,000 kms journey to Mars.
Within a couple of hours, it was confirmed that the ground segment at Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre in Dubai has received and communicated the first signals with the Hope Probe.
UAE president Sheikh Khalifa has praised the talented team who had masterminded the landmark Mars mission.
"With pleasure and great pride, we have followed up on the announcement of the successful launch of the Hope Probe, the idea of which was conceived and developed inside our national research and political institutions," he said.
Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, said the nation watched the successful launch of the Hope probe with "pride and joy."
"We embark on a new chapter in space, led by our exceptional youth. Congratulations to the UAE for this historic achievement," Sheikh Mohamed tweeted.
Indian Consulate General in Dubai congratulated the UAE leadership on the achievement.
“On behalf of all Indians living in UAE, we congratulate UAE leadership and all Emirati friends for successful launch of Mission Hope to Mars today morning and salute undeterred commitment of scientists even during tough times of COVID,” the Consulate General of India in Dubai tweeted.
NASA administrator, Jim Bridenstine, also lauded the UAE's efforts.
“Congrats to the team that worked on @HopeMarsMission. It's truly amazing what @uaespaceagency & @MBRSpaceCentre have accomplished in such a short time. Hope is exactly what the world needs and thank you to the UAE & @mhi for inspiring all of us,” Bridenstine tweeted.
Omar Sultan Al Olama, Minister of State for Digital Economy, Artificial Intelligence and Remote Working System, said COVID-19 was the "biggest" hurdle that the Emirates Mars mission team had to overcome.
"The team had to work backwards just to ensure that everything arrives in Japan before the launch period, and so that COVID-19 and the closure of borders do not affect the launch and the mission itself," Al Olama was quoted as saying by the Khaleej Times.
The Dh735-million (USD 200 million) project, which is the first interplanetary mission by any Arab nation, took six years by a team of 135 Emirati engineers, scientists and researchers.
Hope's arrival in February 2021 is set to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the UAE's formation.
The Gulf News reported that around 200 days from now, the spacecraft will reach the Mars orbit and begin its mission to study the Red Planet's atmosphere.
Thanks to proper planning and "countless sleepless nights", Hope is now on its way to Mars, Al Olama said, lauding the contributions of the team members.
The mission will be the first probe to provide a complete picture of the Martian atmosphere and its layers when it reaches the Red Planet's orbit.
It will also help answer questions related to the global Martian atmosphere and the loss of hydrogen and oxygen gases into space over the span of one Martian year. Three state-of-the-art science instruments have been designed to study the different aspects of the Martian Atmosphere.
"It's like a three-way race to Mars this year and the UAE is headed to be the first country to reach Mars before US and China," Ahmad Belhoul Al Falasi, Chairman of the UAE Space Agency, was quoted as saying by the Gulf News.
Most Mars missions orbit at a single local time that allows the atmosphere to be measured at only one time of day but Hope Probe will circle Mars for the entire Martian year, which is equivalent to almost two Earth years, the report said.
The mission launch was delayed twice because of bad weather in Japan.
“A space mission launch can be delayed due to three reasons: Technical, logistical or foul weather. With SpaceX, the rocket was about to launch but it was postponed due to a technical issue. The Russian-European mission (to Mars) was delayed by two years due to logistical issues caused by COVID-19. In our case, the delay was not due to technical or logistical issues, but purely due to weather-related ones,” a UAE Mars mission official said.
Mars has been chosen for exploration for many reasons.
“From our pursuit to find extra-terrestrial life to someday expand human civilisation to other planets, Mars serves as a long-term and collaborative project for the entire human race,” the Mars mission website says.
"As citizens and residents we are proud to be part of this visionary and innovative era of the UAE's growth," Mustafa Al Husseiny, an Emirati, was quoted as saying by the Khaleej Times.
Shaneer Nusrat Siddiqui, former project coordinator at Al Thuraya Astronomy Centre, said, "with the way the UAE is heading towards space science, the country is set to become a key player in the space industry in the coming years."