Arab spacecraft enters orbit around Mars in historic flight
A spacecraft from the United Arab Emirates swung into orbit around Mars on Tuesday in a triumph for the Arab world's first interplanetary mission. The unmanned craft, named Amal, Arabic for Hope, reached the end of its nearly seven-month, 300 million-mile journey and has begun circling the red planet, where it will gather detailed data on Mars' atmosphere.
Ground controllers' celebrations knew no bound
Ground controllers at Dubai's space center rose to their feet and applauded Amal's success. To a standing ovation Omran Sharaf, the mission's director, declared, "To the people of the UAE and Arab and Islamic nations, we announce the success of the UAE reaching Mars."
The signal confirming success took 15 minutes to reach Earth
The orbiter fired its main engines for 27 minutes in an intricate, high-stakes maneuver that slowed the craft enough for it to be captured by Mars' gravity. It then took a nail-biting 15 minutes or so for the signal confirming success to reach Earth. Tensions were high as over the years, Mars has been the graveyard for a multitude of missions from various countries.
The oil-rich nation joins a coveted league
Amal's arrival puts UAE in a league of just five space agencies that have pulled off a functioning Mars mission, making it a point of pride for the oil-rich nation. An ebullient Mohammed bin Zayed, UAE's day-to-day ruler, was on hand at mission control and said, "Congratulations to the leadership and people of the UAE for the indescribable joy of the arrival at Mars."
About 60 percent of all Mars missions have failed
About 60 percent of all Mars missions have ended in failure, crashing, burning up, or otherwise falling short in a testament to the complexity of interplanetary travel and the difficulty of making a descent through Mars' thin atmosphere.
Two more unmanned spacecraft are set to arrive at Mars
Meanwhile, two more unmanned spacecraft, US rover Perseverance, and China's combination orbiter and lander are following close behind, set to arrive at Mars over the next several days. China's lander which is scheduled to reach Mars on Wednesday will circle the planet until the rover separates and attempts to land on the surface in May to look for signs of ancient life.
All three missions were launched in July
Perseverance is set to join the crowd next week, aiming for a landing on February 18. It will be the first leg in a decade-long US-European project to bring Mars rocks back to Earth to be examined for evidence the planet once harbored microscopic life. All three missions were launched in July to take advantage of the close alignment of Earth and Mars.
China might become only second country to land on Mars
If it pulls this off, China will become only the second country to land successfully on Mars. The US has done it eight times, the first almost 45 years ago. A NASA rover and lander are still working on the surface.
2021 is the 50th anniversary of UAE's founding
For months, the spacecraft's journey had been tracked by the state-run press with rapturous enthusiasm. Landmarks across the UAE, including Burj Khalifa, the tallest tower on Earth, have glowed red to mark Amal's anticipated arrival. Billboards depicting Amal tower over Dubai's highways. This year is the 50th anniversary of the country's founding, casting even more attention on Amal.
Amal joins six spacecraft already operating around Mars
The celestial weather station settled into an exceptionally high Martian orbit of 22,000 kilometers by 44,000 kilometers. It joins six spacecraft already operating around Mars: Three US, two European, and one Indian. The country's first astronaut rocketed into space in 2019, hitching a ride to the International Space Station with the Russians. That's 58 years after the Soviet Union and the US launched astronauts.
The UAE collaborated with more experienced partners to develop Amal
In developing Amal, the UAE chose to collaborate with more experienced partners instead of doing it alone or buying the spacecraft elsewhere. Its engineers and scientists worked with researchers at the University of Colorado, the University of California at Berkeley, and Arizona State University. The spacecraft was assembled at Boulder, Colorado, before being sent to Japan for launch last July.
The cost of building and launching Amal
The car-size Amal cost $200 million to build and launch; that excludes operating costs at Mars. The Chinese and US expeditions are considerably more complicated and expensive because of their rovers. NASA's Perseverance mission totals $3 billion.