Last year UAE’s Hope Probe to Mars was launched from Tanegashima Space Centre in Japan. Known as Emirates Mars Mission, the launch propelled the locally built probe into the space. As the rocket blasted off and launched into space, it launched UAE into a select group of countries which have taken this interplanetary plunge in sending probes to Mars.
Fast forward six months on. The probe travelled far and wide in the outer space, an estimated 500 million kilometres.
It was early morning on 10 February 2021, when I left home for a site visit to the Western Region of Abu Dhabi, also known as Gharbia region.
As I drove along the Khaleej Al Arabi road in Abu Dhabi, the early morning sun played hide and seek with the winter fog, something common here in February. Constrained by the reduced visibility, I drove slowly which allowed me to catch a glimpse of the large LCD panels with fog alerts and reduced speed limits. The panels also proudly displayed the picture of the Red Planet, embellished with the caption ‘Arabs to Mars”.
The caption caught my attention, as did the launch for people around the world. Caption was striking. Possibly, more than the beaming image of the Red planet. It symbolised the vision of a young nation. A nation which has seen progress beyond anyone’s imagination. What it also symbolised is the inclusiveness of this vision. Not just for the country, but for the entire Arab world!
As we entered the Ruwais area, a township in the Western region of Abu Dhabi, the landscape began to change, from flat land to tabletop like formations. On a cloudy and foggy day, these whitish promontories provided a visually stunning landscape. Popularly known as “Burqas”, they these flat-topped rocky limestone formations are well protected within Burqa al Soqoor Protected Area by the Environment Agency-Abu Dhabi under the Shaikh Zayed Protected Areas Network. Further south of this protected area, lies another set of formations, called lithified sand dunes, which look very much ‘Martian’ and it was sheer coincidence that we were exploring the possibility of protecting these fossilised ‘Martian’ sand dunes while the UAEs Hope Probe was heading towards the Martian atmosphere.
I arrived back in Abu Dhabi by late evening to catch a glimpse of the probe entering the Martian atmosphere. As the nation waited with bated breath to see the successful entry at around 7.30 UAE time, an uneasy calm prevailed in the mission control room. Scientists and engineers were glued to their monitors while others nervously moved around. Finally, at 8.02 AM, the wait was over, and the country achieved, what only very few achieved.
As we all watched the television screen, seeing history unfold in front of us, as far as UAEs space research was concerned, my mother innocently asked me as what would be achieved through this mission? Not expecting such a question, I tried to explain to her with my limited knowledge of space. The mission hopes to provide insights into the atmosphere on Mars. It will also help the global scientific community in further understanding the possibility of colonisation by humans.
If the changing landscape of the country provided a peep into its past, the mission to Mars provided a view to the future. The entire spectrum of UAEs journey, from initial Bedouin days of hardships to a prosperous and more importantly a confident nation seems to be complete.
Although we are still going through a pandemic, work has continued. Without a pause. As the country’s geomorphological landscape changes from east to west, so does its energy, environment and science landscapes.
At the Barakah nuclear plant once all the units become fully functional, the energy produced will meet nearly 25% of the UAE’s energy production, a step closer to its clean energy contribution target of 50% by 2050 under the ‘Energy Strategy 2050’.
The plant will reduce UAEs carbon footprint by offsetting annual carbon emissions by over 20 million tonnes. This is a significant progress in a hydrocarbon-based economy. Such reductions will also contribute to UAEs emission reduction targets under the country’s Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC). A small but significant step in global flight against climate change.
We all had hoped that towards the end of 2020 pandemic would be under control. But we were proven wrong. It showed no signs of easing. On the contrary, many countries around the globe saw a surge in cases. Back in the UAE, buoyed by the encouraging results of the phase 3 clinical trials of the COVID vaccine, large-scale vaccination was rolled out. Utilising the excellent infrastructure, it created in its fight against COVID, vaccination was fast-tracked with over half a million doses already administered by mid-February.
Abu Dhabi also scaled up fight against the pandemic, as it launched ‘Hope Consortium’ towards the end of the year. A public-private partnership of key local entities, the consortium aims to handle distribution of over 6 billion COVID vaccine doses in nearly 170 countries to sustain global supply chains. These actions certainly raise hope for humanity. Hope which transcends all geographical boundaries and sociopolitical divides.
Aspirations can inspire
By reaching the Mars orbit in its first attempt, UAE became the first Arab country and joined India as the only other country to do so, in its first attempt. No mean a milestone. For someone like me who has lived in the UAE for the past several years, this is very special. Special, as one is my country of birth while the other is where I spent nearly 20 years.
The journey from empty quarters of the UAE to the emptiness of the Red planet in a span of less than 50 years is nothing short of spectacular. Spectacular in dreaming big and making those dreams a reality. A quantum leap forward.
The country’s successful mission to Mars is symbolic of hope, aspirations, and future foresights. It has raised the aspirations of a young nation. Just the beginning of more stellar journeys in future. A landmark achievement.
In nearly ten months from now, the country will celebrate its 50th anniversary. This will certainly be counted among some of the most significant achievements. If the last five decades focused on transformational development, the next five decades should focus on human development. The blueprint for which has been firmly laid!
Salim Javed is the Acting Director — Terrestrial and Marine Biodiversity, Environment Agency, Abu Dhabi