The United Arab Emirates launched a historic mission to Mars from an island off the coast of Japan Sunday.
The orbiter named Amal, or Hope, was launched from Japan’s Tanegashima Space Center at 5:58 p.m. ET Sunday atop a Mitsubishi Heavy Industries H2A rocket. Hope, which will analyze the Martian atmosphere but not land on the Red Planet, is the Arab world’s first interplanetary mission.
The launch, initially scheduled for Wednesday, had been postponed as a result of thunderstorms, clouds and other unstable weather.
Hope’s mission control is the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre in Dubai.
Almost 2 hours after launch the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre tweeted that it had received the first signal from Hope. "The probe is now heading towards Mars," it said.
The spacecraft is set to reach Mars in February 2021. A successful Hope mission would mark a major step for the oil-dependent economy seeking a future in space.
Chris Carberry, the CEO of Explore Mars, a nonprofit organization aiming to advance the goal of sending people to Mars within the next two decades, told Fox News that Hope’s arrival at the Red Planet will coincide with the 50th anniversary of the formation of the UAE.
“The Hope mission is only the beginning of the UAE's Mars ambitions, however,” he added. “They are building a large research facility in Dubai called Mars Science City and they hope to have a city on Mars by 2117.”
Explore Mars has not been involved in the Hope Mars mission but has maintained communication with the UAE Space Agency, according to Carberry.
Mars also has loomed large for a number of other countries, including China and the U.S., which are set to launch their own missions to the Red Planet soon.
NASA, for example, is getting ready to launch its Mars 2020 Perseverance rover on an epic mission to the Red Planet. The launch window for the spacecraft that will carry the Perseverance rover to Mars opens on July 30 and closes on Aug 15 of this year.
Launched atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, the rover is scheduled to land on Mars’ Jezero Crater on Feb 18, 2021. The mission’s duration on the Red Planet’s surface is expected to last at least one Martian year, or about 687 days.
NASA’s longer-term goal is to send a manned mission to Mars in the 2030s. However, former astronaut Buzz Aldrin said he thought a slightly later target date of 2040 was more realistic. In an interview in 2016, the Gemini 12 and Apollo 11 astronaut told Fox News that by 2040, astronauts could visit Mars’ moon Phobos, which could serve as a sort of stepping stone to the Red Planet.
China also has been planning to launch its own rover to Mars. The Long March-5 carrier rocket, which has been moved into position, is due to blast off from the Wenchang Space Launch Center in the southern island province of Hainan in late July or early August, according to state media reports Friday that quoted the China National Space Administration.
So far, the U.S. has been the only country to successfully put a spacecraft on Mars, doing it eight times. Two NASA landers are operating there, InSight and Curiosity. Six other spacecraft are exploring the planet from orbit: three U.S., two European and one from India.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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