Mars Mission From U.A.E. to Arrive and Orbit Red Planet


The first in a parade of three new visitors to Mars arrives Tuesday when a robotic probe named Hope, the first interplanetary mission undertaken by an Arab nation, is to enter orbit.

For people in the United Arab Emirates, just getting there has become a source of pride. Over the weekend, a number of prominent buildings and monuments in the wealthy oil country, which is about the size of Maine, were lit up in red in honor of Mars, the red planet.

“From the U.A.E. government’s perspective, basically 90 percent of this mission has been achieved successfully,” said Omran Sharaf, the project manager of Hope.

For the remaining 10 percent, there is now little to do but watch and wait as the spacecraft executes instructions already loaded into its computer.

Sarah al-Amiri, who leads the science portion of the mission, said she had felt a full of range of emotions when the spacecraft was launched last summer. But now as it approaches Mars, “This is further intensifying them,” she said.

Once in orbit, the spacecraft can begin its study of the red planet’s atmosphere and weather.

But if some problem with the spacecraft causes it to miss Mars and sail off into the solar system, that would most likely be the end of the mission. “If you don’t arrive, you don’t arrive,” Ms. al-Amiri said.

On Tuesday at 7:42 p.m. in the U.A.E. — 10:42 a.m. Eastern time — controllers at the mission operations center in Dubai will receive word from the spacecraft that it has started firing thrusters to slow itself down and allow it to fall into the thrall of the gravity of Mars.

Because it will take 11 minutes for the radio signal to travel to Earth from Mars, the thruster firing will actually have started 11 minutes earlier, and if anything has gone wrong, it will already be too late.

Twenty-seven minutes later, the thrusters will shut off. Five minutes after the end of the firing, the spacecraft will pass behind Mars and be out of contact for 15 minutes. When it re-emerges, controllers can confirm whether it is zipping along a highly elliptical path around Mars.

Ms. al-Amiri said the mission had also spurred wider interest in space, with people in the U.A.E. asking questions like why is there a delay in communications between Earth and Mars and why is it hard to enter orbit.

“It’s been excellent to further science communication with the general public and gain an understanding in an area which was largely ignored, not only within the country, but within the region,” Ms. al-Amiri said. “It wasn’t something that was a topic of conversation.”


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