NASA’s MAVEN satellite, en route to Mars for the last 10 months, finally arrived in orbit around the Red Planet around 10:40pm ET Sunday night. This followed a tense 33-minute thruster burn as the satellite aimed to slow its speed down enough for Martian gravity to take over. The NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory was understandably thrilled.
MAVEN stands for Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution, but you’d be better off calling this satellite a climate detective. Its mission is to help us figure out how Mars lost all its water millions of years ago, back when the planet looked a lot like Earth. Mars has almost no air pressure, which is necessary to keep liquid water from dissipating into space.
Thus far MAVEN is alone, but it should have a friend on Tuesday — an Indian satellite called the Mars Orbiter Mission, which is on its way to study Martian methane (another clue to the climate mystery).
And of course, there are one or two Earth-born companions still roaming the Martian surface. Delightfully, they’re tweeting at each other.
The United Arab Emirates said on Wednesday it planned to send an unmanned probe to Mars by 2021, in the Arab world’s first mission to another planet.
A UAE Space Agency will be set up to supervise the mission and develop a space technology industry in the country, a government statement said. It did not give details such as the cost of the probe or how it would be designed and built. “The UAE Mars probe represents the Islamic world’s entry into the era of space exploration. We will prove that we are capable of delivering new scientific contributions to humanity,” said UAE President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nahayan.
With a population estimated at no more than about 8 million, most of whom are foreign workers, the UAE lacks the scientific and industrial base of the big spacefaring nations.But it is keen to diversify its economy beyond oil into high-technology sectors, and its oil reserves give it immense financial power that it could use to buy expertise. One of the sovereign wealth funds of Abu Dhabi, the biggest emirate, is estimated to have assets worth nearly $800 billion.
The UAE’s fast-growing airlines, Emirates and Etihad, are among the world’s biggest buyers of planes from US and European aerospace firms, and a factory in the Abu Dhabi desert now turns out sophisticated parts for Airbus.
The UAE has invested over $5.4 billion in satellite ventures such as data and television broadcast company Al Yah Satellite Communications, mobile communications firm Thuraya and earth mapping and observation firm Dubai Sat, the government said.
The Mars probe will take nine months to complete the more than 60 million-kilometre (37.5 million-mile) journey to Mars, and will make the UAE one of only nine countries with space programmes exploring the Red Planet, the statement said.