The first Arab space mission to Mars has blasted off aboard a rocket from Japan, with its unmanned probe – called Al-Amal, or Hope – successfully separating about an hour after liftoff.
A live feed of the launch showed the rocket carrying the probe lifting off from the Tanegashima Space Centre in southern Japan at 6.58am (9.58pm GMT).
Almost exactly one hour later, the feed showed people applauding in the Japanese control room as the probe successfully detached.
In Dubai, the launch was met with rapturous excitement, with the UAE Mars mission’s deputy project manager Sarah al-Amiri declaring it “an indescribable feeling” to see the probe blasting off.
“This is the future of the UAE,” Amiri, who is also minister of state for advanced sciences, told Dubai TV from the launch site.
The Emirati project is one of three racing to Mars, including Tianwen-1 from China and Mars 2020 from the United States, taking advantage of a period when the Earth and Mars are nearest.
In October, Mars will be a comparatively short 38.6m miles (62m km) from Earth, according to Nasa.
Hope is expected to reach Mars’s orbit by February 2021, marking the 50th anniversary of the unification of the UAE, an alliance of seven emirates.
Unlike the two other Mars ventures scheduled for this year, it will not land on the planet, but instead orbit it for a whole Martian year, or 687 days.
While the objective of the Mars mission is to provide a comprehensive image of the weather dynamics in the red planet’s atmosphere, the probe is a foundation for a much bigger goal – building a human settlement on Mars within the next 100 years.
The UAE also wants the project to serve as a source of inspiration for Arab youth, in a region too often wracked by sectarian conflicts and economic crises.