UAE Mars Mission: the meaning of Hope

The story behind the country's Mars probe can teach us about more than just astronomy

FILE - This June 1, 2020 illustration provided by Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre depicts the United Arab Emirates' Hope Mars probe. (Alexander McNabb/MBRSC via AP)
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"We are not done yet, and we will never be." This was UAE astronaut Maj Hazza Al Mansouri's promise to the world when he touched down from his mission in 2019, having become the first Emirati in space. Maintaining this pledge, at about 7.30pm today, the country's Hope probe will enter Mars's atmosphere, the latest milestone in its exploration of space.

The story of the Arab world’s journey beyond earth's atmosphere began in 1985, when Sultan bin Salman Al Saud became the first from the region to leave our planet’s atmosphere. Two years later, Syrian astronaut Muhammed Faris reached the USSR's Mir station. The Hope probe mission’s tagline, “Arabs to Mars”, affirms that their journey continues farther than even they may have imagined.

Astronomy has been dear to the culture of the Arab world since ancient times, when the planets and stars were waypoints for navigating the deserts and the seas. Five years after the unification of the Emirates, Sheikh Zayed, the UAE's Founding Father , met three American astronauts. In 2014, the UAE Space Agency was created, with the aim of developing a national space sector.

As the Hope probe hurtles towards the Martian atmosphere, so does the UAE towards the realisation of Vision 2021 – its plan to put the country at the forefront of human achievement in economic development, social wellbeing and science, among other areas. The country's monuments are lit up in red in anticipation of what Hope will bring back to Earth.

This picture taken on February 6, 2021 shows a view of the Museum of the Future in Dubai, lit red ahead of the UAE's "Al-Amal" -- Arabic for "Hope" -- probe's arrival in Mars' orbit, in what is considered the most critical part of the journey to the Red Planet. The unmanned probe -- named "Al-Amal" -- Arabic for "Hope" -- blasted off from Japan last year, marking the next step in the United Arab Emirates' ambitious space programme.  / AFP / Giuseppe CACACE
The UAE's space programme will include people from all over the region. AFP
The Mars mission also teaches us about the nature of success, which is never linear

As it sails through the vacuum and manoeuvres through the harsh environment of the cosmos, Hope reminds us that venture, progress and achievement take preparedness, innovation and resolve. It has been a trying period for us all on this planet. Covid-19 has plunged us into the unknown, with the virus still limiting our lives. As with an extra-terrestrial voyage, the solution to Covid-19 comprises science, collaboration, ambition and commitment.

The Mars mission also teaches us about the nature of success, which is never linear. Thomas Edison, the inventor of the lightbulb, is famously said to have failed thousands of times before he secured his historic invention. Each attempt was an opportunity from which to learn, not a reason to give up. Likewise, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai,  reminded us of the difficulty of the mission's next phase, tweeting that the probe has a "50 per cent success rate in entering Mars' orbit".

Even if the full scope of the mission is not realised, the attempt will have advanced science, and it will have done so from the heart of the Arab world. A new generation of space scientists now see that they can pursue their ambitions from the region. On Sunday, it was announced that 10 young Arabs have been selected for the UAE's Space Pioneers Programme, which offers them scholarships and training in fields related to space.

Exploring beyond the boundaries of our planet has always been about more than just mission specifics. It is about humanity's pride and wonder as it bears witness to its own ambition.

As Sheikh Mohammed puts it, even before the Hope probe reaches its destination, the UAE has achieved "90 per cent of its goals in building new knowledge".