UAE wishes Nasa luck before historic Mars mission launch

Nasa’s Mars 2020 mission will seek signs of past life on Red Planet

An artist's rendition of Nasa's Perserverance rover on Mars. Courtesy: Nasa 
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The US space agency Nasa will launch the world’s most expensive Mars mission on Thursday, which includes a rover and helicopter that will search for signs of life on the planet.

It is the third mission to the Red Planet to be launched within just two weeks.

The UAE’s Mars orbiter Hope lifted-off on July 20, followed by China’s Tianwen-1 spacecraft, which took off three days later. Both are now on a seven-month journey to Mars.

Dr Mohammed Al Ahbabi, director general of UAE Space Agency, wished Nasa good luck before the launch, which is set for 3.50pm UAE time on Thursday.

“Our colleagues at Nasa are about to do a great thing – launching Perseverance to Mars,” he said.

“In fact, ‘Hope’ and ‘Perseverance’ are exactly the two words humanity needs in the light of Covid-19.

“I would look like to take this opportunity and thank the teams behind these great, noble projects and I wish our colleagues at Nasa best of luck and a successful launch.”

The mission, which cost $2.7 billion (Dh9.92bn) to develop, was given approval to be launched on time from Florida’s Kennedy Space Centre, with an 80 per cent chance of favourable weather conditions.

The three missions will complement each other, as each will be researching different mysteries of the planet, helping scientists to fill the gaps in research.

The Hope probe will study the dynamic weather conditions of the planet by offering scientists a holistic picture, while Perseverance will collect rock core and soil samples from an area on the planet that is considered to have been habitable.

It is the world’s first mission to Mars and back, and samples will be sent to Earth by 2031 through a joint Nasa and European Space Agency project.

The nuclear-powered rover will spend two Earth years exploring the 45 kilometre-wide Jezero crater, which contained a lake and river delta billions of years ago.

An artist's rendition of Nasa's Ingenuity helicopter that has been sent to space alongside the Perseverance rover. Courtesy: Nasa  

With 10 instruments on board the rover, one of the most advanced  is "Moxie", which will be able to produce oxygen from Martian carbon dioxide, ultimately paving the way for future astronauts to survive on the planet when they land there.

Perseverance’s SuperCam imager is also way ahead of earlier cameras on any rover or orbiter.

It will shoot out laser beams to vaporise rocks and will have spectrometers to hunt for organic compounds related to past life.

The mission also includes the first ever "helicopter" to be sent to another planet.

Called Ingenuity, the machine will be held under the rover’s belly and will fly across the Martian skies on arrival.

It will scout for locations that are suitable for future missions.

The rover will also take five small pieces of spacesuit material to the planet, which will be studied by its instruments to help scientists develop suits for future astronauts.

Nasa aims to send the first woman and next man to the Moon soon, as part of a larger plan to send the first astronauts to the surface of Mars.

Perseverance is expected to arrive to the planet in February, about the same time as Hope and China’s spacecraft.

Advanced spacesuit designer Amy Ross of Nasa's Johnson Space Centre stands with the Z-2, a prototype spacesuit. Courtesy: Nasa 

The three countries raced to launch their missions on time because the narrow window to send such missions closes in mid-August.

Russian space agency Roscosmos and the European Space Agency’s ExoMars mission had to be postponed due to technical problems.

Their next launch opportunity will be in 2022, when Mars and Earth are closest to each other again.