Planetary Radio • Jul 29, 2020

Hope Leads the Way to Mars

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On This Episode

Sarah al amiri

Sarah bint Yousef Al Amiri

UAE Minister of State for Advanced Technology and Chair of the UAE Space Agency

Omran sharaf emm hope project director

Omran Sharaf

Emirates Mars Mission project director

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Thomas Zurbuchen

Associate Administrator for the Science Mission Directorate for NASA

Bruce betts portrait hq library

Bruce Betts

Chief Scientist / LightSail Program Manager for The Planetary Society

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Mat Kaplan

Senior Communications Adviser and former Host of Planetary Radio for The Planetary Society

An exclusive conversation with science lead Sarah Al Amiri and project director Omran Sharaf of the Emirates Mars Mission. Their Hope orbiter is now on its way to the red planet. NASA Associate Administrator Thomas Zurbuchen has praise for the Emirates mission and looks forward to the beginning of the Perseverance rover’s own journey. Are you as good as NASA at creating acronyms? Take your best shot in the new What’s Up contest, as Bruce Betts waves farewell to comet NEOWISE.

Hope Probe EMI Testing
Hope Probe EMI Testing The Mars Hope Probe undergoing Electromagnetic Interference and Compatibility (EMI) testing.Image: UAE Space Agency
Hope over Mars (illustration)
Hope over Mars (illustration) Artist's concept of the Emirates Mars Mission Hope probe.Image: UAE Space Agency
Perseverance on Mars at Sunset
Perseverance on Mars at Sunset This artist's concept shows NASA's Perseverance rover exploring Mars, with the sun low on the horizon.Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech

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Trivia Contest

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A Planetary Society 40th anniversary t-shirt, or a vintage Planetary Society t-shirt with the original clipper ship logo.

This week's question:

The stereo camera atop the mast on the Perseverance Mars rover is called Mastcam-Z because it is a mast-mounted camera with zoom capability. Your challenge is to create an acronym that contains all letters in that name!

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Complete the contest entry form at or write to us at [email protected] no later than Wednesday, August 5th at 8am Pacific Time. Be sure to include your name and mailing address.

Last week's question:

Karl Schwarzschild solved the Einstein field equations for the geometry of empty space-time around a non-rotating, uncharged, axially-symmetric black hole with a quasi-spherical event horizon. Who first solved those equations with all those conditions except for a rotating black hole? (Phew.)


The winner will be revealed next week.

Question from the 15 July space trivia contest:

What and when was the last flyby encounter of a comet by a NASA spacecraft?


The last NASA mission to fly by a comet was Stardust, which encountered Tempel 1 in 2011.


Mat Kaplan: Leading the way to the Red Planet, this week on Planetary Radio. Welcome. I'm Mat Kaplan of the Planetary Society with more of the human adventure across our solar system and beyond. Hope is on its way to Mars. We'll enjoy a conversation with the two leaders of the Emirates Mars Mission in a few minutes. China's Tianwen-1 was also successfully launched a few days ago. By the time the first of you hear this, Perseverance, NASA's next Mars rover should be hours away from its liftoff. The agency's Thomas Zurbuchen and Mimi Aung, leader of the Mars Helicopter project are moments away.

Mat Kaplan: Down the line, we'll hear from Bruce Betts about comet NEOWISE and the other wonders waiting for you in the night sky. The July 24 edition of the down link is topped by a view of two worlds that aren't from around here. In fact, these young gas-giants circle the star that is 300 light years away. The image was captured by the European Southern Observatory's very large telescope in Chile. Yeah, that's its name, the very large telescope. It was augmented with a chronograph that blocked most of the star's light revealing those planets.

Mat Kaplan: Launch of the James Webb Space Telescope has been delayed again, as the pandemic continues to take its toll and just on us humans. NASA is now looking at October 31st of next year, that's right, the most powerful and ambitious space telescope ever will get a spooky Halloween send-off. Astronauts Bob Behnken and Chris Cassidy have completed the power system upgrade of the International Space Station with the final space walk. Behnken and Doug Hurley are set to return to Earth in their SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule on August 2nd.

Mat Kaplan: As always, you'll find much, much more at and you can sign-up to receive our weekly newsletter for free. Remember Mimi Aung? We talked back in July of last year with the project manager for the first flying machine headed to another planet. Aung participated in a July 20th virtual event presented by Space Foundation. Titled Roving the Red Planet, the webinar also featured past Planetary radio guests NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, Jet Propulsion Lab Director Michael Watkins, and NASA's Associate Administrator for its Science Mission Directorate Thomas Zurbuchen. We'll hear from Zurbuchen in a few minutes, but first, here's some of what Aung had to say.

Mimi Aung: There are three technologies being demonstrated on Mars 2020. The terrain relative navigation for safer landing in hazardous terrain, Montse, which converts a carbon dioxide to oxygen for instituted resource utilization, and the Mars Helicopter. NASA performs technology demonstrations, tech demos to demonstrate advanced capabilities for spacecraft for our future missions. The Mars Helicopter tech demo will be the first ever to attempt a rotorcraft flight at Mars. In fact, we as human beings have never flown a rotorcraft, a helicopter, anywhere outside of our own Earth's atmosphere. So, really a Wright Brothers moment but on another planet.

Mimi Aung: For NASA, the Mars technology demonstration, Mars Helicopter tech demo is motivated by the potential to add the aerial dimension to space exploration. Today we explore Mars from spacecraft in orbit and rovers roving on the surface. In the future, there'll be astronauts on the surface and the helicopter can serve as scout for rovers and astronauts. A helicopter can also allow us to reach places that are simply not accessible today without being able to fly.

Mimi Aung: It's not easy to build a rotorcraft to fly at Mars. The atmosphere is really thin. Compared to Earth, it's about 1%. A vehicle to fly in Mars has to be really light and it has to spin really fast. The helicopter we've built is named Ingenuity, and Ingenuity has a rotor system that's 1.2 meter in diameter and the entire vehicle has to weigh under two kilograms. That's about four pounds. To build this vehicle that weighs about four pounds while having the capability to fly and land autonomously, and to survive and operate autonomously at Mars, remotely operated from Earth, that's a huge challenge. It's the tiny package with tons of capability packed. The day our vehicle weighed in, it weighed in a hair under 1.8 kilogram. That was a huge day for us.

Mimi Aung: Since then, we've performed the helicopter test flights in a simulated Mars atmosphere in the 25-foot diameter space simulator chamber here at JPL. Very importantly, Perseverance has tested deploying us from the belly pan of the Perseverance Rover successfully to the surface. At this point, we've performed all the tests that we can on Earth and the next step really is now to do it in the real environment this Mars Helicopter Ingenuity is designed for in space vacuum, as soon as after launch, and finally on the surface of Mars.

Mimi Aung: We have a 30 Martian day window to do our flight experiments. We have up to five flight plans to be performed in that time period. The first and foremost, the most important flight for us, for our team is the very first flight where we'll repeat the flight that we have tested multiple times in our test chamber here on Earth. And then after getting the first flight, then we will be performing more bolder and bolder flights of higher heights and further distances. So, here we are. Exciting days ahead. Helicopter is about to be launched. Our team is thrilled. It's truly the high risk/high reward phase of our project. High risk because every step forward, every event that we have will be a first time event, right? First in space vacuum, and then in the environment of Mars.

Mimi Aung: But more importantly, high reward. All of the experiences will be feeding into future much more capable rotorcraft for our team. That is the ultimate reward that we've worked really, really, really hard for. I came to NASA inspired for the opportunity to contribute to space exploration. And along the way, I also fell in love with making first of a kind capabilities work for increasingly autonomous advanced space systems. Here today is an example of the dream come true. Here we are on a historical mission, Perseverance working on a tech demo, Mars Helicopter Ingenuity. Thank you so much

Mat Kaplan: Mars Helicopter Project Manager, Mimi Aung. The tiny whirly bird is now making its way to the Red Planet in the belly of the Perseverance rover. Thomas Zurbuchen, always speaks eloquently and with great passion about our exploration of the solar system and beyond. Here are a few excerpts from his contribution to Space Foundation's webinar.

Thomas Zurbuchen: Before I get started, I wanted to congratulate the United Arab Emirates for their successful launch of the Hope Mission to Mars along with their Japanese launch partners, that's a truly amazing accomplishment and we're happy to join them soon with Perseverance because together, Hope and Perseverance are essential ingredients of exploration. It's truly an exciting decade ahead of us as the entire world sends missions to Mars, to study and explore the Red Planet.

Thomas Zurbuchen: Next week, the United States returns to Mars. It's the next step in putting together a puzzle we've been working on for centuries which has accelerated in the last 55 years beginning with the first flyby of Mars by Mariner 4. The world's eyes were opened when the Viking lander sent back transformative pictures of the surface of another planet for the first time. The world got to see for itself the color Mars red with its own eyes.

Thomas Zurbuchen: We saw how it resembled our great American desert scapes and we wondered anew what our two planets might have in common where all the ingredients necessarily to life, carbon, other elements, water, energy; were they present on Mars and [inaudible 00:08:58] produce microbes as they did on Earth. But did unhappy celestial occurrences for the neighbors snuffed out that agent's life as we strive here and flourish here on Earth as life is an important part of our planet.

Thomas Zurbuchen: These are questions scientists have pondered for decades and more. Now, we sent Perseverance, the most capable robotic scientist ever sent to the surface of another planet, to the most promising place we could determine from here that could have supported life. An ancient river delta by what might have once have been a huge lake. The Perseverance Rover belts on the legacy of NASA's Mars exploration program and joined a fleet that right now includes our rover, outlander, and multiple orbiters. It's our ninth mission to land and our fifth rover.

Thomas Zurbuchen: Perseverance is our first mission to astrobiology. In this case, the search of ancient life as part of its top line science goals, that current fleet of Mars including the rovers planet made Curiosity which is still roving five years in. On older missions we have sent historically, these other missions have all found things that led us to keep going down this path. Having found organics, methane, signs of water in the past and even now, Perseverance suites of instruments will take the next step.

Thomas Zurbuchen: Perseverance is also the bridge between science and human aspiration that demonstrates how the two can support and reinforce each other. It will do incredible things until human scientists with their own unique perspectives and ability to make science judgments are able to walk the surface. I'll look forward to that personally, many of us, too. What will Perseverance do? The planet stories told in parts through its climate and meta will tell us more about the weather on Mars and prevalence of dust and how it would affect human missions.

Thomas Zurbuchen: RIMFAX will probe beneath the surface perhaps finding ice deposits human missions could use. SuperCam and Mars cam will survey and study the environment and turn amazing images. Basically, Perseverance will bring all human senses to Mars. We'll sense the air around it. See and scan the horizon, hear the planet with microphones on the surface for the first time, feel it as it picks up samples into cache and perhaps even taste it in the sense as pixel and other instrument sample the chemistry in the rocks and soil around it.

Thomas Zurbuchen: As humans prepare for the greatest adventure here in-person exploration of Mars, our robots can help. MOXIE will help that demonstrate how we might live off the land by converting carbon dioxide into oxygen that we can breathe or for rocket fuel. Sherlock in addition, do searching for organics uses space suit material for calibration which will also help us learn how it degrades on Mars and technologies such as MEDLI and terrain relative navigation, TRN will help our rover to the surface and also provide data that is important to landing future human missions on Mars.

Thomas Zurbuchen: Jim is going to talk a lot about this and this important context of human exploration as well. A helicopter named Ingenuity will demonstrate powered flight on another planet for the first time. I really look forward to seeing this Marsian Wright Brothers moment. Mimi will tell us more about this. I'm just so excited about it. Perseverance is going to prepare for humanity at long last to hold a piece of Mars in our hand, not just a meteorite from somewhere but a piece of an actual surface with its geologic context analyzed with the best instruments there for us to study back on Earth, the best instruments humanity has available to themselves, not only today but also in the future.

Thomas Zurbuchen: This is the first lap of humanity's first-ever roundtrip to another planet. This amazing explorer could not have been ready for launch. In this transient window we have without the perseverance of teams across the country and the world who struggled and sacrificed through the global pandemic to keep their sights on this milestone of humanity. Their work and this mission embody the agency's and our nation's spirit of persevering even in the most challenging of situations, providing inspiration and advancing science and exploration.

Thomas Zurbuchen: The mission itself personifies the human ideal of persevering towards the future. Mike is going to tell us more about this, especially. Perseverance carries our hopes and dreams, the names of 11 million people from across the world who sent in their names to go with us under the plaque we read, "Explore as one." I just want to tell you, both of my parents who are no longer with us, their names are there. That is really meaningful to me from that perspective as well as also my family who's here, whose all of their names are on this list.

Thomas Zurbuchen: Perseverance carries the goodwill of the entire space community that we and other nations all sent missions to Mars this decade. It reinforces NASA's commitment to working with our international partners to accomplish stunning achievements in science, technology, and exploration. When Perseverance launches, it takes us all. Everyone of us will have a chance to learn from and be inspired by this mission. Any time we attempt something that pushes us to the next threshold is a time to celebrate. It is a big moment. A milestone for humanity that we all share. We explore and discover together. And together, we persevere.

Mat Kaplan: Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA's Associate Administrator for the Science Mission Directorate. We're grateful to Space Foundation. We've got a link to their complete Roving the Red Planet Webinar on this week's [email protected]/radio. We're far from done. After a quick break, we'll head for the United Arab Emirates for a great conversation with Sarah Al Amiri and Omran Sharaf, leaders of The Emirates Mars Mission and the Hope orbiter. Stay with us.

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Mat Kaplan: We featured a launch party on last week's show. One of the many voices you heard belonged to Her Excellency Sarah bint Yousif Al Amiri. Sarah is Deputy Project Manager and Science Lead on the Emirates Mars Mission or EMM. She's also Minister of State for Advanced Sciences in the UAE and she has been named the new President of the UAE's Space Agency. Those are just a few of her titles and accomplishments.

Mat Kaplan: Joining Sarah on this week's show is Omran Sharaf. Omran is the EMM Project Director at the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Center. He's overseeing every aspect of this ambitious mission including the transition from a focus on Earth observation satellites to development to interplanetary missions. You're going to hear the term MEPAG used. That's the Mars Exploration Program Analysis Group. Sarah and Omran, thank you so much for joining us on Planetary Radio. It is a great honor to be able to speak to you so soon after the beginning of this mission, the Emirates Mars Mission with its Hope spacecraft.

Mat Kaplan: I know I speak on behalf of our audience and everyone, all my colleagues at the Planetary Society want to congratulate you on this terrific start for this mission to the Red Planet. Thank you for being here.

Sarah Al Amiri: Thank you for having us, Mat. It's a pleasure for us to be on and to talk about the start of the Hope Mars Mission.

Mat Kaplan: I have to join NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine who we heard on the show last week and many other space experts and officials around the world who are also congratulating you and your team. I'm sure you have been asked this question too many times, but how does it feel to be on your way to Mars? Sarah, why don't you start again?

Sarah Al Amiri: It's been over six years of intense work. As you all know, it's challenging to get a spacecraft built to Mars and it's even more challenging to do it in six years. It's been a mixture of emotions across the board even after launch, leading up to launch. Now that we have the spacecraft there, it's a rollercoaster of emotions where you hit a high every time you achieve a milestone, but you know there's another challenge coming up. It's just these series of challenges that will continue on until we get to orbit around Mars, until we get to starting our science operations and getting scientific data down and start analyzing that. The emotional journey that we're on at the moment will continue on for the next few months.

Mat Kaplan: Omran, a slight variation on that question. How did it feel? Was there a sense of relief when your spacecraft turned toward the big antennas and started to say, "I'm feeling fine. I'm on my way to Mars."

Omran Sharaf: I wouldn't say a full relief. It felt good. I was happy that actually the spacecraft is safe and is communicating with us. It's a long journey. It's a seven-month journey. We have the Mars Orbit Insertion; a very, very critical days in the project that's going to take place in February 2021. It felt good, but not fully relieved.

Mat Kaplan: What is the current status of the spacecraft, Omran?

Omran Sharaf: The spacecraft is safe and sound. It's healthy. It started its cruise towards Mars. We're monitoring the spacecraft on a continuous basis 24/7 for now, as we are commissioning the spacecraft as part of the deal. This process will stay like this for about two weeks, maybe. Later on, we'll switch to normal operations in which we'll be having our operations conducted or contacting the spacecraft twice a week, for six hours every contact. So far, everything looks good and we're happy with the status of the spacecraft.

Mat Kaplan: Are there any significant milestones during this cruise phase as Hope makes its way to Mars?

Omran Sharaf: Yes. We do have very important operations that would take place about 10 days from now, the TCM, trajectory correction maneuver. We have a series of 70 scans taking place which are being launched and arrive to Mars which are very critical for us. This is, I would say, the most critical operation that will be taking place. It will be taking place about seven times throughout the journey.

Mat Kaplan: So, plenty to keep you busy, it sounds like.

Omran Sharaf: Yes.

Mat Kaplan: I know and I'm sure you know that arrival at Mars whether it's orbital insertion as you'll be doing are heading down to the surface is thrilling but can also be terrifying, and this is your first time doing this. What steps have you taken or will you be taking to make sure things go smoothly?

Omran Sharaf: Yes, as you mentioned it's a very risky operation. When it comes to risk [inaudible 00:21:17] the best way to mitigate those risks especially with these missions and especially if it's a platform that you developed, it's not a platform that's been bought or something that's been used before, is by testing it, testing it, and testing it. Before launching, we had a lot of scenarios that simulated the Mars orbit insertion and saw how the spacecraft reacted to these scenarios.

Omran Sharaf: For now, what we can do is again just monitor the spacecraft and make sure that we are on the right trajectory. By the time we reach Mars, we make sure that the softwares are up to date, the data that the spacecraft is using to conduct the maneuvers are up to date, whether it's a nominal scenario, whether it's a scenario [inaudible 00:21:58] error and saw how the spacecraft reacted to that error and fixed that error.

Mat Kaplan: What happens after you achieve your initial orbit at Mars? There are some further adjustments that have to be made before Sarah and her science team can start doing their work, right?

Omran Sharaf: Yes. We will [inaudible 00:22:18] orbit in about month or two. It depends in the spacecraft. During that time, we again check the status of all the subsystems of the instruments, and make sure that the instruments are actually working well. A calibration will take place. Then, after that, we shift it to our science orbit and again, we'll have to check the status of the systems again and calibrate it for the science orbit that it will be operating from. Once that's done and we check the validity of the data that we are receiving from the spacecraft basically, the science team will be able to take that data and use it, and distribute it to the rest of the world to also use it in their studies.

Mat Kaplan: Sarah, let me turn to you. If you're like other missions scientists that I know, I expect you'll be going a bit crazy as you wait through all of these to begin gathering data and doing the science that Hope was going to enable.

Sarah Al Amiri: A large part of what we're doing as the science team at the moment, is the scientists have actually been working on what we're calling the path to science closure and that's analyzing the data that we will get from the Hope probe from about a year-and-a-half now. All the models that need to go into play visualization tools, certain studies that need to take place have already been in development and we've utilized either data that has been captured from the instrument on the ground or sometimes, especially for us on the Emirates side, utilized a lot of training data from other missions that somewhat will capture some form of data that is similar to the Emirates Mars vision. We've been able to work on developing capabilities through that.

Sarah Al Amiri: Also, the processing is very important to the instrument scientists on the team are currently working on the data pipeline, ensuring that we're able to process the data to a level with which scientists can take it and analyze it. They'll be working in conjunction with the engineering team through cruise because there's a few maneuvers that need to happen with regards to the instruments and also in capture orbit, we'll be collecting data while we're in capture orbit transitioning into science. Work on the science team at the moment is ramping up and the team is now really looking forward to getting their hands on the data.

Mat Kaplan: This is such and important point and I think a lot of people who otherwise consider themselves space enthusiasts, don't realize the level of work that has to go in not just by the engineers behind the mission, but the scientists in preparing to get the data for, as you said, months and years before that data starts to flow.

Sarah Al Amiri: Absolutely. A lot of people used to say the science team's work starts after launch, when you get into science orbit. That's absolutely not the case. We started very early on, on the mission together with the engineering team. That's how you scope the requirements. You start with objectives of what you want to study of the planet, and you start breaking that down into the requirements that engineers then go and design and develop the mission for. We've been working on this mission even more closely with our system engineering team, our spacecraft developers, all the instrument teams both on the engineering and science side to get to the point that we're at, mission designers.

Sarah Al Amiri: Even how you capture your data, how often do you want to cover which areas of Mars at which resolution, all of this is defined very early on by the science team. Before you launch, you need to verify that the instruments are functioning according to plan. Then again, after you launch, you need to ensure that a lot of the design and development work goes into place so that you're able to get the right datasets. That's the role of the science team that's very well-integrated in the overall mission and starts from day one and stays on to well after decommissioning to release data.

Mat Kaplan: Is it fair to call Hope Mars' first weather satellite?

Sarah Al Amiri: Absolutely. We're providing the first holistic view of the Marsian weather throughout an entire year and cover the gap in knowledge that we have, and that's the transitions from the day to night cycles. It's every time of the day, we'll be able to cover all of Mars in roughly a 10-day span. This gives us a much better understanding of the weather system of Mars. We also get to correlate how much impact does the weather have on atmospheric loss.

Mat Kaplan: Could you go over briefly because I know there's much more detail on the mission website and we will link to that website and other resources on this week's [email protected]/radio but what are the instruments that Hope carries that will be collecting this data?

Sarah Al Amiri: It carries three different instruments to collect the data. All three instruments are scientific instruments. The first two which is the Emirates Mars Infrared Spectrometer and the Emirates eXploration Imager are providing the weather data for us. They'll be looking entirely at the lower atmosphere of Mars. That's where weather occurs. They'll be capturing data about dust, water vapor, ice clouds, ozone so that we're able to fully characterize what happens in the lower atmosphere.

Sarah Al Amiri: We also have a second instrument which is the Emirates Mars Ultraviolet Spectrometer. That is looking at how far out hydrogen and oxygen extends into the atmosphere. It focuses at the exosphere of Mars. The other aspects of this mission which is our third objective is we want to understand, if something happens in the lower atmosphere of Mars, for example there's dust storm. How does that impact atmospheric loss? What does it do with escape rates of hydrogen and oxygen?

Sarah Al Amiri: We're able to do that using the EMUS instrument that also looks at the thermosphere and it measures carbon monoxide and oxygen, and provides us that link between upper and lower atmosphere. So that we can have an overall view of what role does Mars play in the loss of its atmosphere and we already have an understanding of what role space plays in the loss of Mars' atmosphere. That can provide us a better understanding of climate change on Mars and atmospheric loss on the planet.

Sarah Al Amiri: Hopefully, in the larger perspective of things and this is something that was vital to its mission, to be complimentary to other studies on Mars. In the larger perspective, things will help us better understand how the Marsian atmosphere went from a much denser and wetter one to a dry and very thick atmosphere.

Mat Kaplan: Complimentary indeed because of course with what you've been describing, you've made me think of the MAVEN Mission that we've also covered pretty extensively on this show. Would you say that the MAVEN will definitely be complimented and maybe its work will be amplified by what Hope may be helping us to learn?

Sarah Al Amiri: It's not only the MAVEN Mission. You can take several other missions including ones that for example cover on the polar orbit and they cover the Marsian atmosphere at a higher resolution than our mission. Then, you got the landers that are on the surface that cover quite extensively local weather in a very localized place. It fits in very well on the overall science and the reason it does that it's because we utilized the report that MEPAG usually releases on scientific goals for exploring Mars and been able to find gaps within that, that no other mission is designing for.

Sarah Al Amiri: The purpose of that is that we want to send a purely scientific mission that doesn't replicate other missions, to add on to the scientific findings, and it helps our team get the full experience. It is our first mission, yes, but we wanted our team to learn because we're building, he built his own capacity. Therefore, to learn they need to go through the entire process of learning and things that are unknown and defining science objectives in areas that you're not 100% sure what your outcome is going to be.

Sarah Al Amiri: Now, what will be interesting for me personally is taking what we get in terms of findings and then having that spin out more questions. That for me is what exploration is all about. When your one answer builds into or translates into several other questions to be asked about Mars, and it continuously pushes forward unlocking all the mysteries.

Mat Kaplan: Boy, that's science for you, isn't it? Omran, let me turn back to you. Space communication, deep space communication especially always a big challenge. How are you going to be getting Sarah's data back here to Earth and sending commands to the spacecraft?

Omran Sharaf: It uses an X-band antenna that we have onboard our spacecraft to communicate with the spacecraft and also to send commands and receive data and telemetries. We're utilizing the deep space network, NASA's Deep Space Network. We thought instead of us building everything from A to Z, it was more about utilizing existing platforms and infrastructure around the world to deliver this mission. The command and control room in Dubai is connected to the DSN. That's how we communicate with it.

Omran Sharaf: As you mentioned, it's a big challenge. As we move further away from Earth, the delay in communication increases and by the time we reach Mars, the delay is going to be between about 15 to 20 minutes which adds bigger challenges to the operations and sort of to what we mentioned earlier, Mars orbit insertion in which that process will have to take place autonomously and on its own. Basically, we find out about it if we succeeded or not 20 minutes later.

Mat Kaplan: Yeah, always a challenge.

Omran Sharaf: The spacecraft definitely needs to be smarter than let's say spacecrafts orbiting Earth. The EMUS Mars Mission was at least five times more complex than the previous missions that we worked on at the center. The challenge here was also not just the fact that it had to be smarter but also, for us to understand how smarter it needs to be and also at the same time, build a spacecraft or design it or get the knowledge, and deciding of how to design such a smart spacecraft. That was also a challenge for the team.

Mat Kaplan: Sarah, let me switch gears here and come back to you as we talk about the other reasons this mission is taking place. Of course the chance to gather unique data at Mars is exciting and very important, but it's those other reasons the UAE is taking on this challenge that I want to turn to beginning with the name you chose for this spacecraft. Is this mission all about hope?

Sarah Al Amiri: This mission is all about hope. At the time that we started this mission in late 2013, the Middle East was known notoriously for all the unrest across various countries. Most of it, if you dig down deep to the root cause of it was the youth weren't getting the necessary opportunities that they were looking for. We come from a region that's made up of 100 million people under the age of 35. It got to a point where the energy and the creativity of those people were being used in the wrong groups and for the wrong reasons. It was very important for us to bring another purpose to work for, and this mission was developed from the very beginning to be run completely by those under 35, done in a certain way that it has a scientific purpose.

Sarah Al Amiri: We were requested to design a mission not only to get to Mars and capture an image, but to capture valid scientific data that not only develops our science community, but is able to benefit science communities be it in the Arab Region or around the world and provide another way to look at how to advance countries and where to put the energy of the youth, and to provide opportunities for people and how to create them. We never had people that worked on planetary exploration missions prior to this mission. Seven years ago, the jobs that we have today were not there. The experience that has been captured by the team members that have been through this program has never been in the region.

Sarah Al Amiri: Yes, we have a lot of people who have left the region and are now working in various institutions abroad, but within the regions, this is the first time such an area of knowledge is there. What this changes and that's where hope factors in and even more than that, it's the hope that transforms into expanding possibilities is when you see that happening, when you put together an audacious goal that people very early on doubted it would ever see the light of day, and deliver on it as promised, within the timeline promised, within the budget promised, and with the dedication of the team working in conjunction with our knowledge partners across the world.

Sarah Al Amiri: That has sent a strong message from what I've personally from the people around me of various ages just in The Emirates. We've heard from the first time from people from around the Arab world asking questions on what does change really mean? How do you create opportunities? What are the possibilities out there? It's this dialogue that has been quite important for this mission is to let people think of a different possibility and hope for a better life and more stable life.

Mat Kaplan: This must be very gratifying, then, to see this and there's good evidence for it. I'm grateful to your colleague, Alexander McNabb for getting us together. But he also gave me this great background materials about the mission and your work including a report by University College London about the impact of the mission. The report contains this terrific infographic that I have in front of me. It quantifies many of the mission's social, educational, and cultural benefits. Do you know the one I'm talking about? It's really very impressive.

Sarah Al Amiri: Yes, and that has been something that we've had from the get-go. We've had an outreach team that has been part of this mission very early on. We've catered, I think at some point, to children as young as three years old all the way to post-graduate education. There's been dedicated programs across the board for those. We will continue those and expand them on to the region. But something that's also important that's in the University College London report that comes to our ... the objective that the UAE started a planetary exploration mission in the first place. And that was, how do you build experience in an area that does not exist within the country? How to build capabilities around that? How do you expand the capacity that you have?

Sarah Al Amiri: What this mission allowed us is to create a model by which we design and develop a project or a mission that has a very clear end outcome. At the same time, within the process of that design and development, you're transferring on experience and you're developing capabilities by sharing knowledge across nations. What this helps you to do is to not reinvent the wheel, to learn from the experience of others, more importantly to learn from the tacit knowledge that other people have had. Not something you can never be taught on a book and you can never read it and learn it from anywhere except by going through the development with someone who has gone through it before.

Sarah Al Amiri: There's very small nuances in design and development that people have learned throughout the years, that have come from failing on other programs or doing things in a certain way on other programs that have informed the path for it. What the report provided us was a sanity check. Is this model the right model by which we can go about as a nation to develop new industries? Because what we're working on for the next 10 years is to establish new economic sectors within the country and to increase the impact of scientific research within the country, and increase the capabilities and capacity of the science community overall.

Sarah Al Amiri: The purpose for that is about 20 years from now, demands for oil, for energy will start declining. That is a portion of our economy. That's not entirely our economy, but that is still a significant portion of our economy. It's very important for us to expand on the methodologies by which you can establish new sectors and be able to do that in the correct method. In some way, this has been an experiment in policy making and setting forth a method by which you can develop new sectors in the country.

Mat Kaplan: With that all nations took the long view that the UAE appears to be taking with this project and a goal that really stretches over a 100 years, I know that just over a third of your team members are women. I'm sorry to say that I think that may surprise some people outside the UAE and the Arab world, but I hope it's a pleasant surprise.

Sarah Al Amiri: I've heard that quite a lot as a surprise for us. I think it's just the natural progression that that is over 30%. The reason for that is 56% of those that enter into STEM fields today are women. You have gender parity when it comes to the input. 70% of university graduates overall are women. We've been lucky enough as a young organization that has just been established since 2006 to bring people on who are the best and brightest, and most passionate of minds to work on this project, regardless of gender. It was never something that was put sort of as a criteria and some people do assume that that was the case. It was just the best minds out there that are part of this program and part of this development process.

Mat Kaplan: You're both relatively young people. Omran, here you are, the project director for a Mars mission. I suspect you may be the youngest ever. It sounds like that fits into some of what we've heard from Sarah.

Omran Sharaf: I don't know if I'm the youngest ever project director of Mars mission, but if I am, that's a big honor, to be honest.

Mat Kaplan: I think so, yeah.

Omran Sharaf: But as you know, at the end of the day, I mean, yes we are a young team that worked on this mission and has been given this responsibility by the UAE government to deliver and to execute this project. However, we shouldn't forget that also, we work with our partners, our knowledge partners at the University of Colorado, Boulder which had experienced people with understanding and background in deep space missions. It's a combination of the youth, of the young and the combination of the experienced working together as one team, I think was a major factor in us being able to come up with this new model and approach to do doing things. At the same time, delivering the mission with the limited resources we had when it comes to timeframe and also the budget.

Omran Sharaf: One thing that the UAE government was very clear with us at the beginning, they said, "Don't buy it. Build it. However, learn from others. Don't start from scratch. Work with others [inaudible 00:41:23]. [inaudible 00:41:23] task and program, and delivering something that's new and unique, a new model of executing such missions that is more innovative, that is more efficient, that's more effective. A model that is based on collaboration rather than competition." And as I said, international cooperation was core to this mission and the reason why we were able to deliver it.

Mat Kaplan: Sounds like a pretty wise approach. Sarah, back to you. Looking away from the mission just for a moment or two, I'm thinking of your new job that you're going to move into on August 1st as president of the UAE Space Agency. Do you see that as an opportunity to extend the sorts of goals that you've talked about for this mission?

Sarah Al Amiri: Absolutely, yes. It has been something [inaudible 00:42:12] has been set up to work on. The overall space program of The Emirates is not a one-off program. We have a space agency. We've got a space center. There's an overall long-term development plan for that sector, and what is a success story for us moving forward is one, how do you transfer this capability tangentially into other sectors and two, how do you start building the space economy and further supporting the creation of businesses on the space sector in a different way, filling in a potential gap in the overall industry globally.

Sarah Al Amiri: This for me is an area that we need to seriously work on over the course of the next few years. The other aspect is a program that has been launched and it's about also working with different people in the Arab Region hosting some of the greatest minds out there to work on design and development of spacecrafts with us in conjunction, so that they can also be the voice of change within their countries and they're able to then take their experience and be able to build upon it, and build a spacecraft that are quite vital when it comes to the data or utilize data from spacecraft for urban development and overall development of the science and technology ecosystem within their nations.

Mat Kaplan: Very exciting future ahead, it sounds like. I hope that as we move into this future, even the immediate future that we can stay in touch with both of you to talk more about The Emirates Mars Mission, the Hope probe. But also, I'd love to hear more about your new job when you get into it, Sarah. I'm just wondering now as we come to the end of this, where the two of you will be on that day in February when Hope arrives at Mars?

Omran Sharaf: In the command and control room in Dubai.

Mat Kaplan: Not surprising.

Sarah Al Amiri: Exactly.

Mat Kaplan: Okay. Hopefully, a good celebration afterward. It has been a delight. Thank you so much and congratulations once again from all of us who are following this mission certainly, all of us at the Planetary Society and listeners to this show. The greatest of success to both of and the entire EMM team as we head for Mars with you.

Sarah Al Amiri: Thank you, Mat.

Omran Sharaf: Thank you, Mat. Thank you.

Mat Kaplan: We have been talking with Her Excellency Sarah bint Yousif Al Amiri who was appointed as Minister of State for Advanced Sciences in The United Arab Emirates. In October of 2017, she is also the Deputy Project Manager and Science Lead on the Emirates Mars Mission EMM, where she leads the team developing and fulfilling the mission's scientific objectives, goals, instrumentation and analysis program. She was programs engineering on the Dubai Sat-1 and Dubai Sat-2 Projects. She also shares The United Arab Emirates Council of Scientists, and as we said on August 1st, she'll become president of the UAE Space Agency.

Mat Kaplan: Sarah, I got to bring up something that you mentioned before we started recording. A certain gentleman that I work for, apparently played a role in inspiring you toward this career?

Sarah Al Amiri: Yes. I grew up watching Bill Nye The Science Guy. He brought science to life to me. It was really interesting just growing up watching that and having science brought to your household, not having it the typical textbook science that you study. That has expanded my understanding of how much impact science had on our daily lives and what you can do with it, and what you can create with it. It's an absolute pleasure to be on this podcast.

Mat Kaplan: The Science Guy can be very proud when I tell him about this. Omran Sharaf is The Emirates Mars Mission Project Director at the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Center in the UAE. He and his team are responsible for developing, launching, and operating the Hope spacecraft that we've been talking about. Omran has worked on the project from the start and developed all the necessary capabilities and partnerships at the center. He oversaw this transition from Earth observation satellites to a center that develops interplanetary exploration missions. Omran, I have to note that you got your Bachelor's Degree from my father's alma mater, The University of Virginia. Go, Cavaliers!

Omran Sharaf: Go, Cavaliers! Go hoos!

Mat Kaplan: And we will go on to talking with Bruce Betts for this week's edition of What's Up in just a moment.

Mat Kaplan: Time for What's Up on Planetary Radio. Bruce Betts is the Chief Scientist of The Planetary Society, runs our LightSail program, in addition. I don't know, you're the go-to guy now, it seems for lots of LightSails and solar sails. You just spent most of the day in a meeting about this, right?

Bruce Betts: I did, indeed. Review of an exotic potential future concept of solar sailing. I don't know that I'm the go-to guy but I'm at least a guy who they can get.

Mat Kaplan: You are a go-to guy. I'm sure of it. I have a go-to telescope. What's up there for me to look at?

Bruce Betts: Well, use your go-to telescope to look at Jupiter and Saturn in the evening sky in the east soon after sunset. You can't miss them as Jupiter, being the brightest object in the evening sky, Saturn over to its left looking kind of yellowish. Both look quite beautiful in your go-to telescope, Mat.

Mat Kaplan: I went up looking for the comet last night, comet NEOWISE. It was too cloudy, once again, if you stuck out in that one viewing. But it said it was still, at least last night, it was magnitude 5, about 5.5 which is not bad, right?

Bruce Betts: Kind of, sort of, but not really. The trick is that theoretically with your eyes in a dark side, you cannot see the 6 magnitude. Maybe even the 7th or beyond. But that's assuming that whole brightness is in a point source. The brightness they're giving you of the comet is spread out over an area in the sky, so it's much, much, much, much harder to see a 5th magnitude comet than it is a 5th magnitude star. It's tricky, but it is still hanging in there, visible dimly in the northwest at the end of twilight. It looked like an hour, an hour-and-a-half after sunset just as twilight's ending. But particularly, this would be a good time to pull up those binoculars and use that. [inaudible 00:48:47] a sky, it's chartered on the line and then, pull up the binoculars and you can check it out. It has moved to where many in the Southern Hemisphere can conceptually see it as well. It's definitely fading. It's fading fast. Don't miss it!

Mat Kaplan: Yeah, just too many clouds, too much haze, and too much city since San Diego is between me and the comet.

Bruce Betts: Yeah, that's going to make it tough, at least right now. I did some serious suburban watching when it was brighter. But now it's getting tough. The good news is, it's up higher than it was. But the bad news is, it's dimmer. But if you don't see it, just turn around and check out Jupiter and Saturn which are easy to see. Then, coming up just a little bit later in the evening is Mars. Mars, watch it get brighter over the coming weeks. Mars is already, to play the magnitude game, minus 1 magnitude. Remember, the smaller the numbers are brighter.

Bruce Betts: It's actually approaching the brightness of Jupiter. It's not there yet. But it will be. It's certainly approaching the brightness of the brightest star in the sky right now. But as we move towards October, we'll be getting closer to Mars in our orbit and it will be getting brighter and eventually, will get brighter than Jupiter for a little while. Check it out on the evening, east, a little bit later in the evening. Pre-dawn, Venus is still just dominant object over in the east. It's super bright.

Bruce Betts: To its lower left, you might be able to pick up Mercury which is actually similar right now in brightness to Mars, but always hanging up down there in the horizon, that would be the Eastern horizon in the pre-dawn, lower left of Venus. Be there. One more thing just as a preview, I'll mention again next week, but we got the Perseid meteor shower coming up August 11th and 12th, increased activity several days before and after. There'll be a quarter moon, so it won't be ideal but it'll be good. I'll tell you more next week.

Mat Kaplan: A fine service you provide here every week.

Bruce Betts: Why, thank you, Mat.

Mat Kaplan: So do you.

Bruce Betts: We move on to this week in his ... Did you have a comet?

Mat Kaplan: No, no. I'll let it [crosstalk 00:51:04].

Bruce Betts: Do you have a comet?

Mat Kaplan: I made my comet, comet.

Bruce Betts: A-ha. This week in space history 1971, first driving by humans in a car on the moon, lunar roving vehicle, Lunar Rover Apollo 15 in 1971. In 2007, Phoenix was launch on its way to the polar regions of Mars and it would be a successful lander.

Mat Kaplan: I'm driving in my car.

Bruce Betts: Where are you going?

Mat Kaplan: Corner of that [inaudible 00:51:34] over there.

Bruce Betts: Okay. We move on to [inaudible 00:51:40]. The Perseverance rover, speaking of driving carries an anodized plate with the words, "Explore as one," in Morse Code made to look like the rays of the sun. Check it out in pictures when you see the rover. I fiddled with it. It actually works. It's all tricky to figure out, but then it all becomes clear.

Mat Kaplan: I would only be able to read it if it said SOS. It's the only Morse Code I've ever known and probably ever will.

Bruce Betts: You don't want your rover saying SOS.

Mat Kaplan: No.

Bruce Betts: All right. We move on to the trivia contest. We asked you about NASA exploration of comets. So, ESA's Rosetta spacecraft studied a comet very successfully. But the question was, what and when was the last comet flyby encounter by a NASA spacecraft. How did we do, Mat?

Mat Kaplan: Boy, did you catch a lot of people this time. Ben [Drought 00:52:38], he got it right. He's not our winner. Sorry, Ben. Ben in Iowa said, "A sneaky question since the most recent flyby was not conducted by the most recent NASA comet explorer to be launched. But then, I have come to expect nothing less from Dr. Betts."

Mat Kaplan: Here is the poetic response from our poet laureate, Dave Fairchild. "Stardust was a mission sent by NASA into space. It picked up dusty samples from a Wild 2 embrace then, headed off to intercept the comet Temple 1. Because when you work for NASA, friend, your job is never done."

Bruce Betts: That is correct. Yeah, it was sneaky. It was Stardust does its second comet encounter and the Deep Impact also had a couple objects that checked out just to confuse mattes. So, good job, those who got it right.

Mat Kaplan: We had a lot of people. I mean, a lot of people who thought it was Deep Impact or rather the Deep Impact extended investigation DIXI. "Look for the heart Dixie," as Bob McLain said.

Bruce Betts: They were close, but it was Stardust.

Mat Kaplan: Great tune, by the way. Thank you, [Hogie 00:53:48]. Here's our winner, Paul [McEwan 00:53:51]. Paul McEwan in Cleveland, Ohio. It has been over two years since Paul last won the contest. He did it with his naming of Stardust as being responsible for that last flyby, a NASA probe. There were a couple of people who mentioned Rosetta but they knew that we were talking about the European Space Agency there. Of course, it wasn't a flyby. Paul, you've won yourself, well, it's your choice, a Planetary Society 40th anniversary T-shirt. It is really cool. Or an equally cool vintage Planetary Society T-shirt, new made though, with our original Clipper ship logo. I'll be in touch, Paul. We'll find out what you'd like.

Mat Kaplan: Those are the same prize choices for this next contest that we'll be getting to in a moment. But first, here is another interesting approach to your question, Bruce. It's from Conner [Catrell 00:54:47] in Panama, the country of Panama. He said on October 19, 2014, Comet C/2013 A1 flew by Mars and the three NASA orbiters that were there at that time. Not bad, huh? Sort of a reverse flyby.

Bruce Betts: Yeah, that's an interesting take on it. [inaudible 00:55:08]. I'll give you that. That's interesting.

Mat Kaplan: It was worth to mention. Finally, from Mark [Dunning 00:55:14] in Florida. "Thanks, Oort cloud. I appreciate you even if others don't." Sort of a little dig there at me, I think, Mark? Oh, okay. We're ready for another contest.

Bruce Betts: I haven't told you, Mat, but I've invented a new game for the trivia contest this week.

Mat Kaplan: Oh, no! Be still, my heart.

Bruce Betts: That's right. It's time for Theoretical, Hypothetical Acronyms. Catchy title, don't you think?

Mat Kaplan: I like this already.

Bruce Betts: The stereo camera on the mast of the Perseverance Rovers named MastCam-Z because it is a mast-mounted camera with zoom capability. But here's my challenge for you. Make up whatever letter would stand for if MastCam-Z were actually an acronym. Go to to give us your entry in the Theoretical, Hypothetical Acronym contest.

Mat Kaplan: Let's make this very clear for people. There are acronyms including NASA and other space acronyms. The acronym includes letters that are not a first letter in the words making it up. Will that allowed or does it have to be the first letter or did you think of this?

Bruce Betts: I just assumed it's always the first letter. I mean, if you can slam them together in some way like use the M and the A in one word, that's one thing. But no pulling an X out of the middle of a word. It's ridiculous to pull an X out in the first place because it's not a Mast-MZ. No. You can get a little smooshie with it but not way out of-

Mat Kaplan: I like that. I like that laying out of the rules. You have until the 5th, that would be a Wednesday, August 5 at 8:00 AM Pacific Time to get us the answer this time around and as I said, you get yourself your choice of brand new Planetary Society T-shirts which you can find. Take a look at them in the Planetary Society store. You can either go to or go to the source, That's where our store lives and we have all kinds of cool stuff there.

Bruce Betts: All right, everybody. Get up. Look up the night sky and think about what your name would create if you had an anagram of it. Boy, that was complicated. Thank you and goodnight.

Mat Kaplan: An anagram. But I don't have an X in my name. He's Bruce Betts, he's the chief scientist for the Planetary Society and he joins us every week here for What's Up, X?

Bruce Betts: You're an X-man to me.

Mat Kaplan: Planetary Radio is produced by The Planetary Society in Pasadena, California and it's made possible by its members who live everywhere on our planet and want to see us exploring other worlds. Is that you? Then join them, Thanks for leaving us a review or rating in Apple Podcast, iTunes, or elsewhere. Mark Hilverda is our associate producer, Josh Doyle composed our theme which is arranged and performed by Peter Schlosser. Ad Astra.