This month, a new mission launched to Mars. I can’t wait to see what it discovers, but it will be a success no matter what follows liftoff. The United States, Russia, and the European Space Agency have launched dozens of missions to Mars. Many have failed but even more have succeeded, allowing the return of volumes of Mars scientific data. But this new mission, called Hope (in Arabic, Al Amal), comes from a new player in the planetary exploration business: the United Arab Emirates (UAE). As its name suggests, it represents the hope of a nation celebrating its 50th anniversary, the goal of a region to inspire its youth, and the aspirations of all the nations of the world to join humanity’s push to move us beyond our home planet.
The UAE has only had a space agency for six years, and yet here they are, launching for Mars. It brings to mind another country, suddenly focused on space, making a promise to land humans on the Moon and then achieving it in eight and a half years. I saw that can-do spirit of Apollo in the engineers I met at the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre in Dubai, which is in charge of the Hope mission, when I visited in 2015 as Chief Scientist of NASA. And I saw the inspiration that Apollo fostered in the United States at work when I spoke to university engineering students as well as schoolchildren across the UAE. Space inspires, and Sarah Al Amiri, the science lead of the Hope mission, has spoken about how she hopes this mission will be a message to youth across the Middle East, helping them see science, technology, engineering, and math as paths for them to follow.
So whether Hope returns significant science data, or none at all, it is a success. It is a beacon of hope to students in the UAE and around the world that not only is the sky not the limit, Mars is waiting.
To learn more about the UAE's Hope mission, check out the A Reason for "Hope" episode of the UAE Embassy podcast series Podbridge, featuring Ellen Stofan and UAE Minister of Advanced Technology and Deputy Project Manager of the Emirates Mars Mission Sarah Al Amiri. Learn more and listen now.