UAE 1st Mars orbiter “ambitious and pioneering” in Arab world

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) on Monday celebrated the launch of its Hope probe, Arab world’s first Mars orbiter, deemed as an ambitious and pioneering breakthrough.

Japan’s Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. on Monday launched a rocket carrying the orbiter from the Tanegashima Space Center in Kagoshima Prefecture in southwestern Japan.

The 1.5-ton Hope Probe, which measures 2.9 meters in length and 2.37 meters in width, was developed at Mohammed bin Rashid Space Center in Dubai.

It is expected to reach orbit around Mars in 2021 to mark the 50th anniversary of the founding of the UAE.

The mission is also the first of its kind by a Middle Eastern country.

Its success immediately triggered vast jubilation across the UAE. The orbiter was launched at 1:58 a.m. local time in UAE, but many Emirati citizens were still watching the live broadcast of the launch through TV and internet, witnessing their dream come true.

UAE President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan said the launch of the Hope probe on its “historic” journey to Mars under the slogan of “Nothing is impossible” constitutes a national and Arab achievement and an advanced Emirati push in the process of building global knowledge in space.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, UAE prime minister and ruler of Dubai, said the UAE has created history with an unprecedented Arab space achievement.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, crown prince of Abu Dhabi, said the UAE has strengthened its position as a country that “creates future and embraces hope.”

In an online press conference, project manager Omran Sharaf said the probe’s broader objective was aimed at developing the country’s space sector so that more investment could be garnered for a knowledge-based economy that was less dependent on oil.

Sara Musallam, chairman of Abu Dhabi Department of Education and Knowledge, commended UAE leadership on this Mars mission and said education is in place to nurture the next generation of homegrown space adventurers.

“In celebrating the success, we remain committed to ensuring the country’s future generations are equipped with the core skills and learning competencies required to keep driving our nation’s ambitions higher,” Musallam said.

Hussein al-Shafei, adviser to the Russian Space Agency and head of the Egyptian-Russian Foundation for Culture and Science, highly praised the launch as a very ambitious program and a real step forward for space exploration.

“The UAE is a pioneering country in the field of space,” said Al-Shafei. “Our Arab world really suffers a shortage in the number of space specialists, but the UAE space program will be a window and new hope for young generation with desires to learn about space.”

He stressed the program will be a great incentive for young Arab scientists who want to take space exploration as a real career to develop Arab world.

“This Mars mission of the UAE is a remarkable change in the space exploration industry that has been dominated by big world powers,” he added.

The expert believes the “moral value” of the mission is higher than the financial benefits.

Joshua Teitelbaum, professor in Department of Middle Eastern Studies of Bar-Ilan University in Israel, also spoke highly of the Mars mission by the UAE.

Teitelbaum said as a small but wealthy country, the UAE’s great fortune provides conditions for such a program, which can help the country project “an image of modernity, technological progress, and openness to world, showing a different Gulf state not so conservative.”

He praised that the development of the UAE, especially Dubai, in the past decades reflects its desire to exert influence on the world stage, saying the UAE has been “supporting charities, establishing financial hubs and free zones, and promoting tourism.”

The professor said all these moves, along with the Mars mission, have impressed the world: the UAE is the first Arab country to realize such achievement.

In fact, the UAE has influences in many arenas, like in Yemen, Libya and Syria, as well as in Israel and the United States.

Despite there is no official diplomatic ties between the UAE and Israel, the two countries have good bilateral relations, rarely seen between Israel and Arab states.

Moreover, Teitelbaum said in the past decade, turmoil has swept former powers in the Arab world. This leaves the field for wealthy gulf countries like UAE with increasing soft power.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if the UAE … makes more steps in near future, further projecting its influence and soft power,” he added.