The UAE readying a probe headed for the Red Planet in six years after it was first announced is a stellar achievement, the country's first two astronauts have told Khaleej Times. Mounting an operation of this scale usually takes over 10 years and the UAE did it even as the world is battling and struggling with the Covid-19 pandemic, they said.
Hope probe, the Arab world's first inter-planetary mission, will blast off to space at 00:51 UAE time on July 15 from Japan's Tanegashima Space Centre.
Hazzaa AlMansoori, who made history when he became the first Arab to have gone to the International Space Station (ISS) in September last year, said: "I am really excited and thrilled about this mission. It's a milestone for our country. The Hope probe team achieved this in six years after the mission was first announced. The team, consisting of 200 Emiratis of which 34 per cent are women, did an amazing job to make it possible."
The probe is scheduled to complete its epic 493,500,000km journey to Mars in seven months to reach the Red Planet in 2021 - the year that marks 50 years of the UAE's union.
AlMansoori's backup astronaut, Sultan AlNeyadi, said the world will learn from the Emirati experience. "This is a big milestone for Emiratis and the Arab world. The main objective of this mission is to build our capabilities, to have scientists and engineers, and to boost cooperation to spread the positive message of hope. That's the bigger picture."
Countdown in Arabic
Much to the delight of Emiratis and Arabs, AlMansoori had worn the traditional Arab dress, the kandoura, during his stay on the ISS. Referring to the fact that the countdown for the Hope probe launch will be done in Arabic for the first time in history, the astronaut said: "The countdown in Arabic will energise a lot of countries around the region. It will help them build scientific knowledge and aim for similar projects," he said.
His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, had said the probe was named 'Hope' to spread optimism in the region and inspire the future Arab generations to become experts in space sciences, he added.
"A country like the UAE that is not even 50 years old is sending a probe called Hope to Mars. That gives hope to the whole region," he added.
When asked what the Hope probe team would be checking for hours before launch, AlMansoori said weather checks would be the "main thing".
"As you know, the probe has been placed on the rocket. The team would now be ensuring that there are no issues with the rocket or fuel," the astronaut said.
Why studying Mars is important
AlNeyadi said studying the Martian atmosphere will help humans understand the Earth better. "There is a strong belief that Mars was once like the Earth. It had mountains, oceans and rivers. Understanding what happened on Mars will help us deal with problems like climate change on Earth," he explained.
Space helps us 'appreciate' the basics
AlMansoori said his stay on the ISS helped him appreciate all the things "we get on the Earth for free: Oxygen, gravity, food and water".
"Looking at the Earth from space makes us appreciate what we have down here. Borders between countries are invisible from space. There are only oceans, continents, deserts and forests. Despite where you are coming from, or your race or religion, we should work together as humankind. Work together on Earth and to explore space."
Inspiring the next generation
AlNeyadi said the probe serves an inspiration for the youth to aim for the stars. "We have launched satellites, sent an Emirati to space, and now will set off for Mars. All this inspires the younger generation. It gives the future generation the right to dream to go to the moon or even Mars."
AlMansoori said it was his "wildest dream" to go to space. "I achieved that thanks to my country and its wise leadership. After the mission, during my school visits, kids asked me mostly about the training I underwent to become an astronaut. They were also very keen to learn about the experiments I conducted in space." AlMansoori also had a very special message for kids pursuing space dreams: "Believe in yourselves and work hard to achieve your dreams. Kids, be ready to go to the moon or even Mars!"
Watching the launch with family
Both astronauts said they would be watching the launch live from their homes. "My kids came to Baikonur to watch my launch to space. They were excited to watch the SpaceX launch recently. And now they are excited to watch the Hope probe launch," said AlMansoori.
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