Abu Dhabi: The UAE’s ambitious project to build the first human settlement on Mars by 2117, in collaboration with major international space institutions, will be possible if a methodical approach is adopted, according to a senior scientist at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).
"I think we'll get there," said Dr Lori Glaze, Planetary Science Division director at NASA, in a virtual meeting on Sunday with a selected group of UAE journalists, organised by the US Embassy in Abu Dhabi as the countdown has started for the official launch of UAE’s Mars Mission, Hope Probe.
The Probe, the first ever Arab interplanetary mission to advance Mars research and space exploration, is scheduled to lift off at 00:51:27 UAE time on Wednesday, July 15, 2020, from the Tanegashima Space Centre in Japan, Emirates News Agency (WAM) reported.
The NASA scientist added, "I would say that having multiple countries now (on Mars exploration) has increased our capability (globally) of going back and forth to Mars."
However, Dr Glaze clarified that "there's a lot of work ahead before we are ready to really send humans to Mars. I think it is very important that we take a methodical approach where we make sure we take each step at a time."
The first step in that direction will be to return samples from Mars to demonstrate that humans can go to Mars and actually come back from there and then proving the ability to send heavier spacecraft on Mars in order to come back, the scientist explained.
"We need to be able to land those heavy spacecraft on Mars and then we need to be able to launch it off of the surface of Mars. This has never been done before," Dr Glaze pointed out.
"We need to be able to demonstrate in-orbit rendezvous at Mars ... that once we've launched from the surface to then rendezvous with another spacecraft and then be able to get out of orbit and come back to Earth," she added.
"So, all of these things need to be demonstrated even before we send the first human to Mars.
"I think we need to have realistic expectations and take it one step at a time and keep moving to that next step and that next level of capability so that we can eventually realise that dream," the scientist said.
The UAE’s Mars Mission will complement the US Mars mission’s ongoing effort to find the answer to an important science question, which will help better understand the Earth, Dr Glaze said.
"We (NASA) are also taking information on how the atmosphere is lost to space. This is very important information for helping us to understand how the atmosphere of Mars has changed and evolved over time," she explained.
"So I think that combining the information from the NASA’s MAVEN mission and the UAE’s Hope Probe will help further our understanding of how that atmosphere is currently being lost to space, but also provide us new insight into how it has changed over time, how it has been lost over time. So it will be a major contributor to that science question as well."
NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution, MAVEN, spacecraft reached the orbit around Mars in 2014 and is still studying the red planet’s upper atmosphere.
"We know that Mars at one time in the past had a much denser atmosphere. It was warmer and wetter on the surface of Mars. And MAVEN is also taking some similar types of measurements (as Hope Probe will do), looking at how the atmosphere escapes," Dr Glaze said.
Omran Sharaf, project manager of Emirates Mars Mission, told WAM on July 11 that Hope Probe will have the first holistic view of the Martian atmosphere at different times of the day and various seasons.
Commenting on that, the NASA scientist said that Hope Probe’s holistic view of the Martian atmosphere would give valuable inputs to the existing models built over time based on the already collected data.
"This (the Hope Probe) can give tremendous new contribution to those models to make them better and more accurate, and being able to predict what the weather or what the climate looks like on Mars," she said.
Dr Glaze will be joining two scientists from the UAE Space Agency at a virtual meeting to discuss the Hope Probe launch. The event hosted by the US Embassy in collaboration with NASA and the UAE Space Agency, UAESA, will take place on Tuesday, July 14 at 4pm UAE time.