TOKYO (AP) — A United Arab Emirates spacecraft began its journey to Mars with a blastoff in Japan on Monday in what is the Arab world’s first interplanetary mission.
The launch of the spacecraft named Amal, or Hope, marks the start of the seven-month journey to the red planet.
The launch, initially planned for July 15, had been delayed for five days due to bad weather.
The probe will study the upper atmosphere and monitor climate change while circling Mars for at least two years. The craft is expected to reach Mars in February 2021, the year the UAE celebrates 50 years since its formation.
A Japanese H-IIA rocket blasted off from the Tanegashima Space Center on a small southern Japanese island on time at 6:58 a.m. (21:58 GMT Sunday) into the blue sky.
At Mohammed bin Rashid Space Center in Dubai, Emirati men in their traditional white kandora robes and women in their black abayas watched transfixed as the rocket lifted off. As its stages separate, a cheer went out from a group of Emirati men seated on the floor. They began clapping, one using his face mask to wipe away a tear.
Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, the provider of the H-IIA rocket, said everything has been successful so far and that the Hope probe was to be separated from the rocket about 56 minutes after the launch over the Pacific Ocean.
Two other Mars missions are planned in the coming days by the U.S. and China. Japan has its own Martian moon mission planned for 2024.
Hope will carry instruments to study the upper atmosphere and monitor climate change on Mars. It is scheduled to circle the red planet for at least two years. The UAE says it will provide a complete view of the Martian atmosphere during different seasons for the first time.
A newcomer in space development, the UAE has so far successfully launched three observation satellites, but has not gone beyond the Earth’s orbit.
“It was great to see everything going according to schedule today,” astronomer Fred Watson said. “It looks like things are all on track. It’s a huge step in terms of space exploration to have a nation like the UAE taking that giant leap to send a spacecraft to Mars.”
“Being on route to a planet like Mars is an exceptional achievement.”