DUBAI – 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.
Ground controllers at the UAE’s space center in Dubai rose to their feet and broke into applause when word came that the craft, called Amal, Arabic for Hope, had reached the end of its seven-month, 300-million-mile journey and had begun circling the red planet, where it will gather data on Mars’ atmosphere.
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 took a nail-biting 11 minutes for the signal confirming success to reach Earth.
Tensions were high: Over the years, Mars has been the graveyard for a multitude of missions from various countries.
A visibly relieved 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.”
Two more unmanned spacecraft from the U.S. and China are following close behind, set to arrive at Mars over the next several days. All three missions were launched in July to take advantage of the close alignment of Earth and Mars.
Amal’s arrival puts the UAE in a league of just five space agencies in history that have pulled off a functioning Mars mission. As the country’s first venture beyond Earth’s orbit, the flight is a point of intense pride for the oil-rich nation as it seeks a future in space.
An ebullient Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the UAE’s day-to-day ruler, was on hand at mission control and said: “Congratulations to the leadership and people of the UAE. ... Your joy is indescribable.”