Countdown begins on UAE Mars mission aiming to bring Hope to the Arab world

An artist’s depiction of UAE’s Hope Mars Mission orbiting Mars. (Courtesy of the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Center)
Short Url
Updated 13 July 2020

Countdown begins on UAE Mars mission aiming to bring Hope to the Arab world

  • The Hope Probe will start its journey July 14, 2020
  • Data of the mission will be regularly available to the public without any embargo

LONDON: In just 40 days, the UAE will become the first Arab country to send a mission to Mars, part of a wider regional effort to build knowledge and create opportunities, particularly for young people.
“This mission is not just about the UAE it’s about the region, it’s about the Arab issue,” Omran Sharaf, the mission’s project manager at the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Center (MBRSC), said.
“The region is going through tough times and we do need good news and we need the youth in the region to really start looking inwards, building their own nations and putting differences aside to co-exist with people with different faiths and backgrounds and work together.”
The Hope Mars Mission will start its journey on July 14 and is expected to reach the planet by February, coinciding with the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the UAE. 
The project has been planned, managed and implemented by an Emirati team overseen and funded by the UAE Space Agency. 
The MBRSC has developed the probe in cooperation with international partners, including the Universities of Colorado, Berkeley and Arizona.

The UAE's mission to Mars, the Hope Probe. (Courtesy of UAE Space Agency)

Speaking at a webinar on the mission on Monday, Sarah Al-Amiri, the UAE’s Minister of State for Advanced Sciences, outlined why the project was so important to the Emirates.
“Today the UAE is an economy based on services, logistics, and oil and gas, and within the region it is considered a diversified economy, but if we project that down the line, the importance of knowledge-intensive sectors becomes more and more prominent for the country, as well as creating new knowledge-intensive organizations,” she said.

Developing talent, creating opportunities for engineers, scientists, and researchers working in natural sciences are the next important endeavours for the country, the minister added.
“Mars provided us with the necessary challenge to rigorously develop talent in engineering, it gave us an appetite for risk and being able to circumvent the risk and push forward with the mission for development. It allows us to start integrating and creating new opportunities for scientists within the UAE and those that are studying the natural sciences,” Al-Amiri said.
Since the project was launched in 2014, the team has designed, developed and assembled the spacecraft, and repeatedly tested it through the harsh conditions it is expected to encounter.

The Hope probe will study the Martian atmosphere to understand how it developed into its current state. (Courtesy of UAE Space Agency)

As the UAE does not have a launch pad, the spacecraft was shipped to Japan in April. It was moved three weeks ahead of schedule, due to the increasing travel restrictions being imposed to combat the spread of COVID-19.
“Nothing about this mission has been easy, since day one the timeframe has been challenging, the budget itself has been a bit challenging, there were very strict requirements when we came to the budget and it was limited and then the COVID-19 situation came into place on top of all the other challenges,” Sharaf said.
He added that the details of the budget would be announced at a later stage.
“When it comes to these projects, the public understands the importance for the UAE,” Sharaf said. “It’s about addressing our national challenges and building capabilities. We live in a region with geographical challenges, when it comes to water, food and clean energy and everybody is quite excited about this mission because they understand the value it brings.”

Al-Amiri said the data from the mission would be publicly available from two months after the spacecraft starts to orbit Mars between August and September next year.
Any scientist would be able to use the information and analyze the figures, she said.
“We are looking at and studying a planet that has indications that it was very similar to our own planet and that has undergone some form of change and has gone into a point where it can’t have one of the major building blocks of life, as we humans know it and as we have defined it. 
“Understanding the reasons for the loss of hydrogen and oxygen, the building blocks of water from the atmosphere of Mars and understanding what role does mars itself play.”

The Hope probe will start its journey on July 14, 2020, and is scheduled to arrive to Mars by Feb. 2021, in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the union of the UAE.

The team would also be studying the weather on Mars throughout an entire year.
“We are the very first weather satellites of Mars,” Al-Amiri said. “Prior to this we have been studying the weather on that planet and understanding better the climate of Mars by sporadically sampling various areas around the planet but not understanding the changes that happened throughout an entire day.”
However, Sharaf said “the UAE has always had plans for the future and we are definitely not going to stop with Mars. 
The UAE space program is more of a mean or a tool to build our knowledge economy, so reaching Mars is not the objective and whatever the next phase is will be focused more on transferring that knowledge to the different sectors that we have in the UAE.”
Over the last 60 years, only six countries have sent missions to the Red Planet.
“Space travel has by and large been in the group of a small select number of superpowers, so this is a great opportunity for the UAE to go beyond that and to go into something different,” Alistair Burt, Chairman of the Emirates Society, which hosted the webinar from London, said.
The Emirates has already launched two satellites and sent an astronaut to the International Space Station and it has vowed to build a human settlement on Mars by 2117.

The UAE Astronaut Programme sent the first Emirati and Arab astronaut to join astronauts at the International Space Station (ISS) in Spetember 2019. (Courtesy of MBRSC)

“Fifty percent of the missions that go to Mars have failed and this is one of the reasons the UAE chose Mars as a target because of the challenges around it and it’s a message that the challenges that we are facing in the region are not easier,” Sharaf said. “The best way to increase the likelihood of succeeding is by testing, testing and again testing, debugging and then fixing, and that’s why the philosophy of the mission is to continue testing till the day that we are going to launch and we won’t stop this.”
Sir Ian Blatchford, director of the UK’s Science Museum Group, described the UAE’s project as fascinating.
“What they are trying to achieve is remarkable for a country that is developing this infrastructure, but particularly I think they’re being very modest in describing the fact that they’re doing it in half the time,” he said.
Three other missions are heading for Mars over the next year, including NASA’s Mars Perseverance Rover, China’s Tianwen-1, which will launch next month, and ExoMars, a collaboration between the European Space Agency and the Russian space agency Roscosmos.

When a Saudi went to space
Prince Sultan bin Salman speaks exclusively to Arab News about his 1985 NASA mission and how he became the first Arab, Muslim and royal in space



Egypt mulls law to protect women’s identities as MeToo movement escalates

Updated 31 min 15 sec ago

Egypt mulls law to protect women’s identities as MeToo movement escalates

  • Move comes as hundreds of women have started to speak up on social media about sexual assault in Egypt
  • A 2017 poll found Cairo to be the most dangerous megacity for women

CAIRO: Egyptian lawmakers are pushing for a new law to protect the identity of women coming forward to report sexual abuse and assault as the nation’s MeToo movement picks up speed.
An Egyptian parliamentarian committee has approved a draft law that would give survivors of sexual assault and harassment the automatic right to anonymity, with the law expected to go to vote at a general session of the parliament later this month.
The move comes as hundreds of women have started to speak up on social media about sexual assault in Egypt, with the public prosecution and National Council for Women supporting the movement and offering legal and social protection.
Spurred on by the growing MeToo movement, data entry specialist Bassant Abdel Wahab, 22, went public recently about being sexually abused by a human rights activist when she was 17 and reported him to the civil society group where he works.
The man has now been suspended from his job while his organization investigates Abdel Wahab’s complaint along with those of other female colleagues who accused him of assault.
“Sexual assault incidents that have been hidden for years are continuing to surface and in a raging way,” Wahab said.
“It is like a tsunami that could change attitudes and laws on sexual assault against women.”
The frequency of such cases being reported in the conservative Muslim country began to rise after the 2011 revolution as reports of sexual assaults, harassment and rape in Cairo’s Tahrir Square made local and international headlines.
But this year there has been a spike in reporting about cases of sexual assault since early July when an Instagram page revealed the case of a university student who is accused of sexually assaulting and blackmailing multiple women.
Within five days of the case being disclosed, the National Council for Women said that it had received 400 complaints mainly about violence against women.
Lawmaker Magda Nasr said the new law to allow anonymity of sexual abuse survivors will be a game changer for women in Egypt as it will give greater protection to report such cases.
“There is an apparent political will to protect women rights and attempt to reduce as much as possible violence against women,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Nasr said the latest wave of complaints came after an Instagram page in July accused a university student of sexually assaulting and blackmailing multiple women. The student was arrested and the case is being investigated by the authorities.
The same Instagram account also exposed a gang rape said to involve six men from wealthy and powerful families that prosecutors are now investigating.
Since then Egyptian actresses have spoken up against how they were subjected to sexual assault.
One actress, Rania Youssef — who faced charges in 2018 that were later dropped after wearing a see-through outfit to the film festival — published photos of those responsible on social media.
In other cases, two other human rights activists were accused of sexual assault against female employees and a Coptic priest was defrocked on sexual assault allegations.
“It is a moment where women can have more gains in their fight against sexual abuse,” said lawyer Entessar El-Saeed, executive director of Cairo Foundation for Development and Law.
El-Saeed said several non-governmental organizations and parliamentarians were also pushing for a unified law on violence against women that would provide greater protection for women and girls from sexual assault and blackmail.
The bill toughens penalties against sexual abuse in all forms, criminalizes rape within marriage, and includes better reporting mechanisms, confidentiality guarantees, and protection for witnesses and survivors.
“The bill has been in the parliament for two years and it is now the perfect time to approve it,” said El-Saeed, who is the head of one of seven NGOs that drafted the bill.
A 2017 Thomson Reuters Foundation poll found Cairo to be the most dangerous megacity for women, and 99 percent of women in Egypt interviewed by the United Nations in 2013 reported sexual harassment.
An outcry over attacks on women near Tahrir Square during President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi’s inauguration celebrations in 2014 prompted a new law punishing sexual harassment with at least six months in jail.
But women rights activists view the law as too weak.
“The penalty needs to be toughened and there needs to be legal mechanisms that make it easier for women to report and get their rights,” El-Saeed said.