In attempts to unravel its mystery and assess the possibility of existing life on the Red Planet, scientists have sent dozens of exploratory missions to Mars orbit. They believe that 3.8 billion years ago Mars had liquid water on its surface. It is also thought that Mars was an embryonic planet that has survived from collisions that happened at the beginning of the Solar System formation.
According to the outcomes of these exploration missions, Mars is a rocky planet with a thin atmosphere. It is often referred to as the “Red Planet” because the iron oxide prevalent on its surface gives it a reddish appearance. A year on Mars is the equivalent of 687 Earth days and it is colder than Earth. The core consists primarily of iron, nickel and sulfur. Besides silicon and oxygen, the most abundant elements in the Martian crust are iron, magnesium, aluminum, calcium, and potassium.
The average thickness of the planet’s crust is about 50 km, with a maximum thickness of 125 km, while Earth’s crust, averaging 40 km. The Phoenix lander returned data showing Martian soil to be slightly alkaline and containing elements such as magnesium, sodium, potassium and chlorine. These nutrients are necessary for growth of plants.
According to the results of the most recent missions sent to the Red Planet, almost all water on Mars today exists as ice, because the temperature is far too low, leading to rapid freezing. However, studies confirmed that Mars looked very different in its distant past and was once like Earth with an ocean of Water and a similar atmosphere to what we have on our planet today.
The History of Space Exploration Missions on Mars
Since 1964, the US, former Soviet Union, Europe, Japan, India and China have been trying to launch more than 50 spacecraft to the Red Planet. Roughly two-thirds of all spacecraft destined for Mars failed either on launch, during their missions or on landing. The successful attempts are Mariner, Viking program, Surveyor, Pathfinder and Odyssey.
In 2015, India successfully inserted a spacecraft called Mangalyaan into Martian orbit. It was the least-expensive Mars mission to date.
The Daily Mail said that the Indian Mars Orbiter Mission cost $74 million, or about three-quarters the amount to make the Oscar-winning movie Gravity that had a larger budget at $100 million. By comparison, NASA spends hundreds of millions on its space experiments, e.g. the total cost of landing the Curiosity rover on Mars surface amounted to 2.5 billion dollars.
India announced that Mangalyaan arrived in orbit around the Red Planet after a tense 300-day marathon travelling more than 420 million miles (more than 670 million km).
The UAE Joins the Space Race with the Emirates Mars Mission – Hope Probe
The UAE entered the global race to explore outer space when the President, His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, unveiled the formulation of the UAE Space Agency. HH Sheikh Khalifa also announced plans to start working on sending the first Arabic-Islamic probe to Mars, under the supervision of a national team, on a scientific voyage of discovery by 2021. The probe is scheduled to reach Mars on the 50th anniversary of the union.
The announcement of creating the UAE Space Agency coincided with the launch of the project. The agency aims to regulate and support the space sector in the country, promoting the establishment of a knowledge-based economy, contributing to the diversification of the national economy, raising awareness of the importance of the space sector, enhancing national capabilities, encouraging the development and use of space science and technology, establishing international partnerships for the development of the space sector and contributing to the transfer of knowledge in the field of space technology.
In the presence of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, a detailed agreement was signed between the Emirates Institution for Advanced Science and Technology [Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre] and the UAE Space Agency, commissioning the implementation of all stages of the Emirates Mars Mission and its launch to MBRSC under the supervision and with direct funding from the UAE Space Agency for a period of seven years. H.H. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid confirmed that “Great challenges require the strongest teams; and travelling into space requires people with ambitions that reach and embrace the sky.” Addressing the probe team, HH said that “We have seven years to build our knowledge, develop our organisations and set up an infrastructure to reach the Red Planet.
“An historic Arab and national mission lies ahead of us; the Emirates Mars Mission is a great source of national pride, a great Arab achievement and a valuable contribution to science and humanity. The UAE people and leadership will keenly follow the project’s progress,” he added.
To support the project and the UAE space industry, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum issued a resolution to establish the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC), to which the Emirates Institution for Advanced Science and Technology (EIAST) in effect became integrated. His Highness also witnessed the launch of the Strategic Plan for the UAE Space Agency.
“The establishment of a fully-fledged space sector in the UAE, with all necessary human resources, infrastructure and scientific research, is a primary national objective. It requires everyone involved to work as one team to establish the UAE’s leadership in this sector and to build advanced scientific capabilities in the space domain,” Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid said.
“The Hope Probe and the UAE Space Agency are milestones for the development of the UAE. Today, we are at the dawn of a new era that holds the promise of ambitious advancements; an era in which we build our national capacity and establish a new international standing for the UAE in the space sector. Building a new space sector that is integrated and comprehensive is a value-added step for our national economy, technical knowledge, human capital, and international reputation,” H.H. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid added.
The Hope Probe will travel more than 60 million km in a journey that will last around nine months, making the UAE one of only nine countries with space programmes to explore Mars.
Why do Countries Join the Race of Sending Space Exploration Missions to Mars?
The point of exploring Mars in particular is to glean something profound about Earth from the one planet in the Solar System that appears to have been formed in a similar way, and whose stable surface has preserved a record of the Solar System’s history. The aim is to address the question of whether the planet was ever an abode of life.
And if evidence of some preexisting life were found, what happened to the atmosphere that helped to sustain it? Studies conducted on Mars will provide enormous information on how to overcome issues we face on Earth, such as desertification, global warming, and other environmental issues. They will also offer high technology that contributes to enhancing the quality of life on Earth.