TOKYO (AP) — A United Arab Emirates spacecraft began its journey to Mars with a blast off in Japan on Monday in what is the Arab world’s first interplanetary mission.
The launch of the spacecraft named Amal, or Hope, marks the start of the seven-month journey to the red planet.
The launch, initially planned for July 15, had been delayed for five days due to bad weather.
The probe will study the upper atmosphere and monitor climate change while circling Mars for at least two years. The craft is expected to reach Mars in February 2021, the year the UAE celebrates 50 years since its formation.
A successful Hope mission would be a major step for this OPEC-member nation home to the skyscraper-studded tourist destination of Dubai. The Emirates have set ambitious plans for space, including pledging to build the first inhabitable human settlement on Mars by 2117.
While raising eyebrows with that goal, the UAE has successfully built a space program with local talent working out of the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Center in Dubai. The Hope probe was built here by a program cooperating with other nations to quickly reach out to the stars. The UAE already sent its first astronaut to space last year on an eight-day mission to the International Space Station.
“It sends a very strong message to the Arab youth that if the UAE is able to reach Mars in less than 50 years, they could do much more,” Omran Sharaf, the project director of Emirates Mars Mission, told The Associated Press on Sunday as his colleagues prepared for the launch.
Two other Mars missions are planned in the coming days by the U.S. and China. Japan has its own Martian moon mission planned for 2024.
A newcomer in space development, the UAE has so far successfully launched three observation satellites, but had not previously gone beyond the Earth’s orbit.
The Emiratis involved in the program also acknowledged it represented a step forward for the Arab world, the home of mathematicians and scientists for centuries before the wars and chaos that have gripped wide swathes of it in recent times.
“So the region has been going through tough times in the past decades, if not centuries,” Sharaf said. “Now we have the case of the UAE, a country that’s moving forward with its plans, looking at the future and the future of region also.”
“Because of accepting differences, because of coexistence and having people from different backgrounds living together, we were able to move forward.”
Associated Press writers Malak Harb and Jon Gambrell in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, contributed to this report.