Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 4 August 2020

UAE IN SPACE

Mars missions embody ‘humankind driven by curiosity’

European Space Agency director says Red Planet exploration is much more than science and could help lift spirits during pandemic

The UAE's Hope probe takes off on its journey to Mars on Monday. AFP
The UAE's Hope probe takes off on its journey to Mars on Monday. AFP

Missions to Mars such as the UAE’s Hope probe are more than merely scientific exploration and could help cheer people up amid the coronavirus pandemic, a senior European space official has suggested.

Johann-Dietrich Worner, director general of the European Space Agency, said exploration of Mars had in his opinion three main benefits, which included developing high-end technology for future use.

He also said much could be learnt from the Red Planet given its similarities to Earth, at a panel event on Monday during a virtual version of England’s Farnborough International Airshow.

“The third thing is for me the most important one. This is humankind driven by curiosity; whether we like it or not, it is like that,” he said.

“Therefore when people see what we are doing in space, they are fascinated. That’s the case all the time, and that is good. Fascination is a positive mood in our brain, much better than all these coronavirus things. So therefore it is positive, fascination is positive,” Mr Worner added.

“Mars is delivering all of this and Mars is very special because we still expect to find something there like life.”

The successful launch of the Hope probe was in contrast to Europe’s own efforts to launch a mission to Mars this month, which did not go ahead. ExoMars’ Rosalind Franklin rover is a joint venture between Europe’s space agency and Russia’s Roscosmos.

Dr Graham Turnock, chief executive of the UK Space Agency, said there was a limited window only every two years to launch missions to Mars because of the planet’s orbit.

“Obviously it’s really disappointing. So many people worked so hard together on the Rosalind Franklin rover and get it ready for launch. Not being able to do it is obviously a real shame,” he said.

“But a combination of Covid and some really challenging technical issues which we just didn’t feel in the end we had time to resolve, not least given the Covid situation, meant that in this case the best option was just to say, ‘Let’s go again in two years’ time.’”

A decision was made in March to push back the launch after a lack of testing of parachutes needed to land on Mars.

Britain's Middle East minister James Cleverly praised the Hope launch and described it as a pioneering mission.

Updated: July 21, 2020 12:37 PM

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