December 4, 2023

The first of a parade of three new visitors to Mars has arrived.

On Tuesday, the United Arab Emirates became the fifth nation to successfully send a spaceship to Mars when its robotic probe named Hope orbited the red planet.

It is the first interplanetary mission to an Arab country. In the past few days, several significant buildings and monuments in the rich oil country, which is about the size of Maine, have been lit red at night in honor of the red planet Mars.

“From the perspective of the United Arab Emirates government, basically 90 percent of this mission was successfully completed,” said Omran Sharaf, Hope’s project manager, in an interview prior to the arrival of the spacecraft.

For the remaining 10 percent, all that remained was to watch and wait as the spaceship carried out instructions that were already loaded into its computer.

Sarah al-Amiri, who heads the science portion of the mission, said she felt a slew of emotions when the spacecraft launched last summer. But as it neared Mars, she said, “This further strengthens them.”

In orbit, the spaceship can begin investigating the atmosphere and weather of the red planet.

On Tuesday, air traffic controllers at the Mission Operations Center in Dubai first received the message from the spaceship that it had started firing engines to slow itself down and drop it into the gravity of Mars. After the 27-minute burn was complete, they confirmed that the probe was in orbit.

Cheers broke out in the control room, where the mission’s managers sat at elegant computer consoles that were at home on the bridge of a Star Trek spaceship.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates, was at the center to offer his congratulations and wrote “Mission Accomplished” on his Twitter account.

The mission is to study for at least two years how dust storms and other weather conditions near the surface affect the speed at which Martian air escapes into space.

One day after the Hope maneuver, a Chinese spaceship, Tianwen-1, is also slated to enter orbit around Mars. The Chinese mission carries a lander and a rover to explore a large impact basin called Utopia Planitia. However, these should not detach from the orbiter and come to the surface until May.

NASA’s newest rover, Perseverance, will arrive on Mars on Thursday next week. Without going into orbit first, it is instead quickly decelerated from 12,000 miles per hour to a complete stop on the Martian surface in what NASA calls “seven minutes of terror.”

Perseverance’s destination is the Jezero Crater, a dry lake that appears to be a place where signs of life could be preserved if life were ever to arise on Mars.

All three missions were launched last July to take advantage of a favorable alignment between Earth and Mars that occurs every 26 months.

While NASA has decades of experience launching spacecraft to other planets, and China has successfully sent a number of robotic missions to the moon in recent years, the United Arab Emirates is a newcomer to planetary research.

The Hope Mission is an unusual collaboration between the United Arab Emirates and the Laboratory of Atmospheric and Space Physics, a research institute at the University of Colorado that has been working on space missions for more than half a century.

Although the spaceship was built in Colorado, many engineers from the United Arab Emirates lived there for years and gained expertise while working with their more experienced American counterparts.

Ms. al-Amiri said the mission had also generated wider interest in space. People in the UAE asked questions such as why communications between Earth and Mars are delayed and why it is difficult to get into orbit.

“It was excellent to promote science communication with the public and gain understanding in an area that has been largely ignored not only within the country but also within the region,” said Ms. al-Amiri. “It wasn’t a topic of conversation.”

With the UAE also lacking rockets or launch pads, the Hope spacecraft traveled to Japan to go into space and launched in July on an H-IIA rocket built by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Limited.

In the seven months since then, the spaceship, which weighs about 3,000 pounds and is roughly the size of an SUV, has traveled 300 million miles. Mission controllers could dispense with the two final planned course corrections because the spaceship stayed exactly on target.

On the way, the spaceship was able to make some scientific observations. In one case, Hope and BepiColombo, a joint European-Japanese spacecraft spiraling towards Mercury, turned to each other and took identical measurements of hydrogen between the two spacecraft. This should help scientists working on both missions calibrate their instruments and get new information about the solar system.

Another set of observations attempted to track interplanetary dust.

“The opportunity arose and we know that these datasets are quite rare for scientists studying this type of science, so we hope to publish them soon and serve the community,” said Ms. al-Amiri.