On This Episode
Director of the Space Missions Department at the United Arab Emirates Space Agency
Senior Editor for The Planetary Society
Director of Government Relations for The Planetary Society
Chief Scientist / LightSail Program Manager for The Planetary Society
Planetary Radio Host and Producer for The Planetary Society
Join us as we celebrate the accomplishments of a truly inspiring space mission - the United Arab Emirates' Hope probe, which has spent two amazing years orbiting Mars! Our guest, Mohsen Al Awadhi, Director of the Space Missions Department at the UAE Space Agency, shares insights into the mission's journey and teases the next exciting chapter: observing Mars' mysterious moon, Deimos. We're also counting down to the launch of the European Space Agency's highly anticipated JUICE mission, set to explore the enigmatic moons of Jupiter. We update you on NASA's VERITAS mission to Venus and share how you can contribute to the campaign to save this crucial exploratory mission. We'll wrap up the episode with our favorite stargazer, Bruce Betts, who'll guide us through a sneak peek at the upcoming night sky in What's Up.
- Hope, the United Arab Emirates' Mars mission
- Emirate Mars Mission homepage
- Planetary Radio: Hope Leads the Way to Mars
- Planetary Radio: Sarah Al Amiri and the new UAE mission to the asteroid belt
- Meet the Crew of Artemis II
- Planetary Radio: Juno Journeys to Jupiter’s Moons
- Juice launch and mission preview: What to expect
- Why we need VERITAS
- Save the VERITAS mission to Venus
- Donate to advance the future of space exploration
- The Night Sky
- The Downlink
This Week’s Question:
On what planet was the city Freehold located in the lore of the Destiny video games?
This Week’s Prize:
"Good Night Oppy" 12-oz thermal mug.
To submit your answer:
Complete the contest entry form at https://www.planetary.org/radiocontest or write to us at [email protected] no later than Wednesday, April 12 at 8am Pacific Time. Be sure to include your name and mailing address.
Question from the March 22, 2023 space trivia contest:
What do astronomers call a ring caused by gravitational lensing?
Astronomers call the ring created by gravitational lensing an Einstein ring, aka Einstein-Chwolson or Chwolson ring.
Last week's question:
Who took the iconic picture of Bruce McCandless floating untethered over the earth during the first flight of the Mann maneuvering unit?
To be revealed in next week’s show.
Sarah Al-Ahmed: The Emirates Mars Mission celebrates two years in orbit around the red planet. This week on Planetary Radio. I'm Sarah Al-Ahmed of The Planetary Society, with more of the human adventure across our solar system and beyond. One of my personal favorite space missions, the United Arab Emirates Hope Mission to Mars, has spent two years in orbit around our planetary neighbor. It's about to wow all of us as it enters a new phase of exploration. Taking a closer look at Mars's moon Deimos. Mohsen Al Awadhi, director of the Space Missions Department at the UAE Space Agency joins us to celebrate the mission's exploratory anniversary. We're also just a little over a week away from the launch of the European Space Agency's JUICE mission to explore the moons of Jupiter. Jason Davis will let you know what to expect from the launch on April 13th. Then Jack Kiraly will pop in to update us on the status of NASA's Veritas mission to Venus and let you know what you can do to help save the mission. And of course, we'll close out this episode with Bruce Betts and a peak at the upcoming night sky in What's Up? We'll dive into our regularly scheduled updates from our weekly newsletter, the Downlink, in just a moment. But first, we have a headline that you won't want to miss. On Monday, April 3rd, NASA announced the crew of the highly anticipated Artemis II mission around the moon. Meet the Artemis II crew.
Christina Koch: I'm Christina Koch, I'm a mission specialist.
Jeremy Hansen: I'm Jeremy Hansen. I'm a mission specialist.
Victor Glover: I'm Victor Glover. I'm the pilot.
Reid Wiseman: I'm Reid Wiseman. I'm the commander for the Artemis II mission to the moon. To the moon, to the moon, to the moon.
Sarah Al-Ahmed: That clip is brought to you by the amazing people at NASA and the Canadian Space Agency. I'll link to the official crew announcement, including this video, on the website for this episode at planetary.org/radio, because this is a moment we all deserve to celebrate. The Artemis II mission is crucial. It marks the first crewed mission to orbit the moon in over 50 years. It will carry three NASA astronauts and one astronaut from the Canadian Space Agency. It's also near and dear to my heart and so many others because the Artemis II mission will take the first woman, the first person of color, and the first non-US citizen beyond low earth orbit. I'm so excited for the crew and for all of us earthlings that will be cheering them on. Artemis II will test NASA's space launch system and the Orion spacecraft to make sure that everything operates as designed. This mission is a stepping stone for future lunar surface missions like Artemis III and long-term lunar science. It's bound to inspire the next generation of explorers, the Artemis generation. It's also a fun moment for all of us here at The Planetary Society for many, many reasons, but one of them is that we've been cheering on the Canadian Space Agency's Jeremy Hansen for ages. In fact, here's what he said at a planetary radio live event in Toronto eight years ago,
Jeremy Hansen: Someday, somebody's going to come into my office or more likely phone me and say, "Hey, it's go time, and it's your turn to fly in space," and that's pretty incredible.
Sarah Al-Ahmed: Congratulations, Jeremy and also Christina, Victor and Reid. Our hearts will be with you as you prepare for your mission around the moon. Artemis II is currently scheduled to launch no earlier than November 2024. We'll keep you all updated as we learn more. And with that happy solar wind in our sails, let's move on to our most recent Downlink headlines. A Chinese lunar sample return mission has found water. Researchers analyzing lunar regolith brought back to earth in 2020 by the Chang'e 5 spacecraft have found water trapped in glass beads. The beads are thought to have formed from lunar material that was ejected during asteroid impacts then cooled when it fell back to the surface. There's enough water in these beads to suggest that the top 12 meters or 40 feet of lunar surface contains 270 trillion kilograms, that's 600 trillion pounds of water. That could be a huge help for future lunar settlements. Meanwhile, the European Space Agency is considering developing an independent human space flight program. ESA, which currently partners with NASA and other space agencies for its astronaut program, is assessing a report from a high level advisory group that recommends developing independent capabilities including crude vehicles, a commercial space station, and a European human landing on the moon within the decade. All I'm saying is, it's a good time to be a space fan. You can learn more about these and other stories in our March 31st edition of the Downlink, our weekly newsletter. Read it or subscribe to have it sent to your inbox for free every Friday at planetary.org/downlink. The European Space Agency is preparing to launch a mission to uncover the secrets of Jupiter's icy moons JUICE, or the Jupiter Icy moons Explorer, is currently scheduled to lift off on Thursday, April 13th. Our senior editor Jason Davis is here with the details. Hi Jason.
Jason Davis: Hey Sarah. How you doing?
Sarah Al-Ahmed: Doing really well and really excited for the launch of ESA's JUICE mission. This is going to be one of the biggest space moments this year. So when does it launch?
Jason Davis: The launch is coming up soon, April 13th. Right now it's scheduled for 8:15 AM in the morning Eastern time. That could always change before then, but that's the time right now as we're recording and yeah, going to be exciting, getting a big planetary exploration mission off the ground like this, always cause for some celebration.
Sarah Al-Ahmed: Yeah, the Juno mission to Jupiter was amazing. Still is amazing, and we've learned a lot about Jupiter and what's going on with this moon, but a mission dedicated specifically to some of these really interesting moons around Jupiter is something we've never had. So for people who are only just learning about this, what is the JUICE mission and why is it so exciting?
Jason Davis: If you look back at some of the explorations of Jupiter, we've kind of zeroed in on this concept that hey, these moons are not just dead worlds. They're actually really interesting places to explore in their own right, and in the case of most of these icy moons, they have subsurface oceans, or at least we think they do. So that means that there is a chance that they could harbor life or that there may have been life on them in the past. We just don't know. So we've kind of taken this big view of the Jupiter system from early missions like say Galileo, that just kind of tried to explore everything and now we're really homing in on some interesting science questions on these individual worlds. We won't get to see results for a while. It'll take us a while to get to Jupiter, until 2031, so don't hold your breath, but when the results finally start coming back, it's going to be really neat.
Sarah Al-Ahmed: Which moons are we going to be exploring primarily?
Jason Davis: Europa, Ganymede and Callisto. So we're going to focus on the icy moons. These worlds that are like part rock, part ice, have water under the surface. So these are the three out of the four Galilean moons.
Sarah Al-Ahmed: I think Europa gets a lot of love. People have this wonderful kind of mystique around it and its idea of the ocean underneath and what might be living there, but Ganymede is the one that I am most curious about. It's the biggest moon, not only of Jupiter, but in our solar system, and I'm really glad that it's one of the main focuses of this mission.
Jason Davis: It's interesting. One reason they're focusing so much on Ganymede is a very practical reason, and that is if you look at NASA's Europa Clipper mission, it's doing flybys of Europa rather than entering orbit around it, and that's because the radiation there is much stronger, so it's very hard on the spacecraft. So rather than target a moon like Europa, they're moving out a little bit and going into orbit around Ganymede. There'll still be a lot of radiation there, but not quite as much. But yeah, Ganymede is a world that's really interesting in its own. It has these interesting splashes across the surface that we don't really know what they're comprised of, what makes up these little bands on the surface. We know that it has some kind of subsurface ocean that's sloshing around down there, but we don't know how deep it is or if it's in contact with the surface or even possibly a rocky floor underneath the ocean. There's just a lot we don't know. So JUICE will try to get some of these basic facts about the subsurface ocean nailed down. Another cool thing about it is that it generates its own magnetic field. It's the only moon in the solar system that does that. So it actually has auroras just like we have here on earth. Those have been detected by the Hubble Space Telescope actually. So we're going to study all this and really get a good understanding of how all these moons interact with the Jupiter system around them.
Sarah Al-Ahmed: I was really intrigued to learn more about Ganymede's magnetic field and how it interacts with the magnetic field of Jupiter. There were some really amazing results about that that came out of Juno, and I got a chance to talk with Scott Bolton, the PI for that mission about it on a previous planetary radio. So knowing that we get to go there and take an even closer look at this moon, and how wild is it that it's got its own magnetic field? There is so much that we need to learn about these places.
Jason Davis: Yeah, it's just incredible that there are worlds in our solar system that are just relatively close, you can see through a telescope, and we just don't really know much about it at all other than some very basic things from other missions. So yeah, very exciting.
Sarah Al-Ahmed: It is an exciting time. As much as there are things that we don't know, this is the perfect opportunity for us to completely blow our own minds, and I think this is one of those missions that's going to do it.
Jason Davis: Yep, absolutely. I think so. I think we're going to see some really cool results, especially just getting some basic facts on how deep these oceans are and what the composition might be. Is it habitable or might it be habitable? And then when we look at exoplanets and we find gas giants around other stars, we can then see what would moons be like around those gas giants, and we can kind of extrapolate to that. Potentially expands the chances of life elsewhere.
Sarah Al-Ahmed: This article, which is called The JUICE Launch, What to Expect, will be coming out the day after this episode of Planetary Radio. Mark your calendars for the launch. April 13th is the day, the day after Yuri's Night, which is celebration of humans first going to space. So this is a good moment to get jazzed about space exploration and I know I'm going to be watching the livestream.
Jason Davis: Definitely, yeah. Looking forward to it.
Sarah Al-Ahmed: Well, thanks for sharing this with us, Jason, and when we actually get results back from this mission, I'm going to have you back in like a decade.
Jason Davis: All right. Put it on the calendar for a decade from now.
Sarah Al-Ahmed: In the last few episodes of Planetary Radio, we've shared some updates on the status of NASA's Veritas mission to Venus. I promise that we'd keep you updated on our organization's plans to save Veritas. Here's Jack Kiraly, our director of government relations, and the newest member of our Planetary Society staff to tell us more. Hi Jack.
Jack Kiraly: Hey Sarah, how you doing?
Sarah Al-Ahmed: Doing well, and it's nice to have you on Planetary Radio. I know that people who are fans of our space policy edition have already met you, but it's wonderful to get to introduce you to everyone else. How's your first month on the job been?
Jack Kiraly: The first month has been great. Everyone's been giving me such a warm welcome and I'm really excited to be part of the team.
Sarah Al-Ahmed: And it's a perfect time to have you join our team because immediately right out the gate we've got a mission that needs our help.
Jack Kiraly: I know, I know. Serendipity, right?
Sarah Al-Ahmed: So what is the status of the Veritas mission right now and why does it need our advocacy?
Jack Kiraly: So the Veritas mission, originally selected two years ago in 2021 as part of the discovery process, is currently without a launch date. If you go onto the NASA website for the mission, it says TBD, and that's because late last year, although the mission was on time, on schedule, on budget and making great progress to meeting original 2026 or 2027 launch date, NASA postponed the mission for some issues related to some other mission at JPL, the Psyche mission, which was covered in the show, was unfortunately delayed by a year and will be launching later this year. NASA produced a report that said that some workforce and structural issues at JPL were going to cause delays in a number of other missions, and so they preemptively delayed not any other mission but Veritas. So the Veritas mission is the first US led mission to Venus since Magellan, which was decommissioned in 1994. So it has been 30 years of a lapse in science around Venus and even international missions to Venus have been few and far between with only a handful since 1994. So we really need to return to Venus. One of the big things that's exciting about Veritas is just the fact that it's going to be mapping the surface of the planet, something that we've done at basically every other planet in the solar system except for Venus. And I mentioned those international missions in the last 30 years, those missions have focused primarily on the atmosphere. So we really don't know anything about the surface of Venus and as was covered by Planetary Radio and in The Planetary Society, there's active volcanoes that was discovered using that 30 year old data from Magellan to determine that Venus is an active planet. It is not a barren rock. There is things happening there and we just simply don't have the fidelity of data to fully understand it. And that's why it's so important that we send Veritas to Venus by the end of this decade.
Sarah Al-Ahmed: That's a really important context to put it in because there are currently missions, not just from NASA but other space agencies, that are targeting Venus. We've got a whole fleet on the way there, but Veritas is special. What it's going to do for us, understanding the topography of Venus and trying to unlock these mysteries, is unique and I feel like we need this mission. I'm sad that we're in a place where we have to kind of see that TBD in the calendar, but if we work together, maybe we can actually help Veritas get its launch date. So what can we do? What do you suggest that we do to advocate for this mission?
Jack Kiraly: First off, anyone can help build the public enthusiasm for the Veritas mission by sharing on social media one of the articles that we have on planetary.org about Venus and about the mission and use the hashtag #saveveritas. Go look on The Planetary Society's social media accounts and you'll see what we're talking about. The second thing that you can do, and this is unfortunately just for our US-based audience, is you can sign the petition on planetary.org in the action center to encourage Congress to set a 2029 launch date for the mission. The problem we're facing right now is that TBD. NASA's put this mission on an indefinite delay. The science team is eager, and I'm talking eager, to get this mission back on track so that we can do this foundational science at Venus. The way that we can have that happen is have Congress act and include it in the budget this year, that a 2029 launch date is part of our planetary science goals. One of the things that we've been doing is talking to our legislators and this show of support by signing the petition and sending that message to Congress builds that enthusiasm not just outside of the US Congress. We want to have the public engaged, public enthusiasm built for this mission, but we need legislators to understand that this mission is doing foundational science at a planet that is really Earth's twin. It's about 90% the size, 90% the composition of Earth. We need to understand that planet as well as we understand Mars so that we can see sort of where the Earth fits in this scheme of habitability. Venus is much hotter than Earth is. We'll just say it's much more of a hellscape than Earth is and Mars is dry and cold. And so finding out what happened to Venus, using what we've learned about Mars, will help us better understand our planet and the role of different terrestrial processes and celestial processes that lead to the formation of terrestrial planets like ours.
Sarah Al-Ahmed: Yeah, we're in a place where we've explored so much of our solar system, but one of the greatest mysteries is why Venus is the way it is. Imagining that it once might have oceans of water and might have been habitable and now is just ... There are literally clouds of sulfuric acid. That's a wild transformation. And I think too that it's important to underscore how effective we've been at this kind of advocacy as an organization in the past. I'm not going to go into the whole history of every mission that we've helped save together, but if you take the time to go on and actually sign this petition, which I've done, it only takes a couple of minutes to do so, you can actually make a difference and get this mission the launch date that it really needs. So if you're willing to take that time time, we really appreciate it.
Jack Kiraly: Yeah, absolutely. And with so many competing interests in DC, I'm based here in the Washington DC area, there are so many other issues happening, things coming up. The news cycle is constantly changing, constantly evolving. Making sure that we're that consistent and present voice on planetary exploration makes all the difference. And so The Planetary Society, why I'm so proud to be a member and having been involved for almost, well, I guess as of the release of this episode, it will be exactly 10 years since I first got involved with the Society, that this is what we do. We save missions, we push the frontier, we push the boundaries of planetary science. Veritas is exactly the type of mission that we need to better understand our planet, other planets in the solar system. And honestly, I was just at Space Science Week at the National Academies and everyone was referring to Venus as the exoplanet next door. We're discovering hundreds of exoplanets just 30 years ago. When Magellan was orbiting Venus, we discovered our first exoplanet. Now there's 5,000 and counting and us understanding Venus will help us understand the formation of planets around other solar systems, help us understand habitability in those systems and determine whether there might be the possibility for life beyond Earth. Venus is a prime candidate that's right here in our celestial backyard and we need this mission. So please, if you're based in the US, make sure you go to planetary.org and sign the petition to save Veritas. If you're not in the US, you can show your support by going on social media, by talking to your friends and neighbors and members of your community to encourage them to show their support for a mission like this. And together we can build the enthusiasm that can #saveveritas.
Sarah Al-Ahmed: And to make it easier for everyone, if you want to sign this petition or if you'd like to read our new article on why we need Veritas, I will put that all on the page for this episode at planetary.org/radio. And thanks for joining me Jack, and welcome to our Planetary Society team.
Jack Kiraly: Thank you Sarah. I'm happy to be on the team and I'm looking forward to many years working together.
Sarah Al-Ahmed: Let's say Veritas, everyone.
Jack Kiraly: Say Veritas.
Sarah Al-Ahmed: Today we're celebrating the United Arab Emirates Hope Mission to Mars. The Emirates Mars Mission is the first Arab-led planetary exploration mission and has been orbiting the Red Planet for two years. Hope has been instrumental in studying Mars's atmosphere and has already released six batches of data. Now with a new focus on Deimos, one of Mars's two moons, the mission aims to provide the international scientific community with previously unseen observations and data. The first Deimos flyby began in late January and the data gathered so far promises to unveil fascinating new insights into this lesser known celestial body. Researchers are only just beginning to publish papers on the amazing data gathered by the Emirates Mars Mission. Hope's unique orbit has allowed it to observe and analyze the planet's atmosphere and climate in ways we've never been able to do before. As people begin to delve into the data, the results have already been fascinating. The mission has observed everything from cloud belts to dust storms, and researchers are comparing its findings to computer models to let us know more. This is helping scientists fine tune our understanding of Mars's weather and climate, but one of the coolest results has got to be what we're learning about Mars's aurorae. On Earth, our planet is protected by a global magnetic field that guides charge particles from the sun toward our planet's magnetic poles. When the charge particles hit our planet's atmosphere, it produces the beautiful lights of the Aurorae. Mars doesn't have the global magnetic field that we do, but it does exhibit a phenomenon known as proton aurorae. Usually these kinds of Aurora are formed when charged particles from the sun interact with Mars's atmosphere, creating a uniform glow. But the Hope mission has found that these Aurora can actually be patchy or localized. This suggests that there are multiple factors at play, like the solar wind plasma reaching Mars's atmosphere, or turbulence causing the glow to appear in different areas. The Hope Mission's discoveries are shedding new light on Mars and its atmosphere and there's still so much more to learn. To discuss this historic mission and the exciting new focus on Deimos, we're honored to have Mohsen Al Awadhi on our show today. Mohsen began as lead systems engineer on the Emirates Mars Mission, and seven years later, he is now the director of the Space Missions Department at the UAE Space Agency. Hi, Mohsen. [foreign language 00:22:49] Planetary Radio.
Mohsen Al Awadhi: Hi Sarah. Thanks for having me.
Sarah Al-Ahmed: I cannot believe that it's been more than two years since Hope went into orbit around Mars. I feel like it was just yesterday that we were celebrating that spacecraft's arrival at Mars along with NASA's Perseverance Rover and China's Tianwen 1. How does it feel now that it's been two years?
Mohsen Al Awadhi: Yeah, as you mentioned, time really does just fly by. It honestly feels like it was only yesterday when we were anticipating that we will enter the Martian orbit for the Emirates Mars Mission. I think with how busy we've been with not only this mission but everything else as well, it just been unbelievable. Also the achievement that was accomplished by the mission itself, honestly hard to digest and believe that really has been two years so far.
Sarah Al-Ahmed: I've been a huge fan of the Hope mission since I first learned that the UAE Space Agency was going to attempt an interplanetary mission. My brother, who actually does not work in the space sector, came to me with a YouTube video explaining the mission and what the name represents. So for people who are just now learning about the Emirates Mars Mission, why did the UAE choose to name their spacecraft Hope?
Mohsen Al Awadhi: The naming was not chosen randomly. Back in 2015, there was an announcement from the Prime Minister on giving the public an opportunity to choose a name for the mission. Through that campaign, the result was the name Hope and it sat well because the mission is not only about achieving the science, the technology or technical objective, but also to send Hope for the region. We come from a region that is not in the most friendliest neighborhood. The idea was how can we start changing the mentalities? How can we show that we have a better and a bigger opportunity than what we believe that we have? So the limitation that we put for ourselves, thinking that we are not capable of such thing. So this mission was to send the message of Hope not for the UAE only, but also for the region. And that's why that name really resonated well with all of us because the message that it takes with it's again, bigger and beyond the technical and the scientific objectives of the mission.
Sarah Al-Ahmed: Honestly, I got a little emotional when I first heard about it because I think, particularly for people living in countries like the United States that have a very robust space sector, it's easy to forget that there are kids around the world that are dreaming of working in space but don't really have the opportunities because the regions that they live in are still working to build their presence in space. So as someone whose family comes from the Arab world, I want to let you know how much it means to me that the UAE chose to name their mission Hope, and that a whole new generation of kids have a new dream to aspire to. I think the mission is really living up to its namesake.
Mohsen Al Awadhi: Really glad to hear that. And yes, that's the exact purpose of the name and whoever is from this region will understand why this name is really important and why this mission and what represents means a lot to all of us.
Sarah Al-Ahmed: And I've heard interviews with members of the Emirates Mars Mission team that have kind of echoed this sentiment that their path led them to work on spacecraft, but that wasn't really what they thought they would be doing. You yourself began as a aircraft engineer, right?
Mohsen Al Awadhi: Yes, exactly.
Sarah Al-Ahmed: And the UAE Space Agency has managed to accomplish a lot in what's a relatively short amount of time? It's easy to forget that while Hope is soaring around Mars, the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre was only founded less than 10 years ago.
Mohsen Al Awadhi: Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre established in 2006, so a little bit more than 10 years, but the Space Agency, it was established in 2014.
Sarah Al-Ahmed: How has your team leveraged international collaboration to get the space agency off the ground so quickly?
Mohsen Al Awadhi: The international collaboration I think was the core reason that we had a successful mission. It was really important to understand what the mission is supposed to be doing the knowledge needed to do such a mission and finding that partner, we call it the Strategic Knowledge Transfer Partner, was quite critical. Going with the university, that's their theme. They teach, they give knowledge to others and us working with the university was a really important message again to everyone that this is not a procurement, this is not a system that will eat bot, but this is a program that yes, we in the UAE don't have the knowledge. We in the UAE are really young and what we're asked to do by our leaders is quite challenging. So first admitting and making clear that yes, we do need the support and help, but then finding the support and help from someone who's going to teach you and not just give you the product. And that relationship started back in 2015 with the University of Colorado in the US and we have that relationship ongoing on some of the new future missions that we are working on as well now. So building that relationship was quite important and key success to the success of the Emirates Mars Mission.
Sarah Al-Ahmed: As a teenager, my father lived in Dubai and I remember being there and him telling me that the UAE was working on building its space agency. So I'm really hoping one of these days I can come back to Dubai and come visit the space center. That would be really fantastic.
Mohsen Al Awadhi: Looking forward to having you. Yeah.
Sarah Al-Ahmed: So it's been two years since Hope went into orbit around Mars. What has that time been like for your team since this successful orbital insertion of the spacecraft?
Mohsen Al Awadhi: As soon as we did that successful orbit insertion back in Feb 9th of 2021, we did not go and conduct science right away. So that was the first time that now the spacecraft is orbiting Mars. It was the time to confirm that whatever we designed is actually working, whatever we put numbers and parameters in are all making sense. That was the first time, again, we're actually observing the motion atmosphere. So it took us approximately two month before we conducted and started the actual science, so approximately end of April May timeline of that same year, 2021 was when the science was conducted officially. Since then, the science team, mostly the spacecraft team, the mission operations team, they were the one that were heavily involved and the science team existed from 2014 as well. I mean that's how we were working together. All of this team was working together. By the time that we got to Mars, it was approximately six years that they were going through these trainings and now it was the first time they're actually going to work on data on a mission that they worked on and the mission that they put the objectives on for the science aspect. And that's when you know the science team, now we're taking the lead that this is their time now. We are in the science orbit trying to understand the data that they're seeing, try to see what they learned in the last six years and how can they now implement it on the Emirate Smarts mission data. That was the science team team. Then from the spacecraft, they're still working on the spacecraft on the mission, they're doing their maintenance, they're doing their health checks on the spacecraft. Trending data is making sure whatever was designed, whatever is designed for the spacecraft is behaving according to the performance expected as of each day that we're looking at this data. Then the mission operations, they're at a cadence of twice a week. We have two contacts each week. Each contact is approximately from six to eight hours long. So that's the time when they send the commands to the spacecraft or if there is any new updates, let's say to the spacecraft itself, that's the same time they Downlink the data that the spacecraft is taking. It's been a busy period of time, but twice a week that there is a direct contact with the spacecraft. And between those two days it is a team that's working on, okay, what should we be sending the next weekend? What should we be sending three weeks from now and so on.
Sarah Al-Ahmed: There's so much that Hope has learned about Mars in just the short time and now the spacecraft is moving on to a whole new adventure, checking out Mars' moon Deimos. So we've got a lot to talk about here. Part of what allows Hope to do this science looking at Mars's atmosphere is its unique orbit around the planet. So how does its special position relative to the planet help it study the Martian atmosphere in its climate?
Mohsen Al Awadhi: That is one of the reason we position the mission at this specific orbit. When we kicked off the mission, the requirement was from the government that you need to do something that's unique. So that means you need to bring in data and information that was not available. So you are not going to repeat anything that has been done previously. This needs to contribute to the science community. So knowing that the team goes to the international science community, understand what's been missing so far about the Martian atmosphere. I mean of course there's tons of things that all each scientists would love to have, but we focused on, okay, what is really missing from all of the other missions that can help us better understand the atmosphere? The reason that we think Mars lost its atmosphere, and how can we try to put that picture together, was that we don't have the full coverage of the Martian atmosphere. All of the missions that we have today prior to the EMM, all of the mission used to provide data on a specific time on mar. So let's say a spacecraft that was existing previously used to bring data from the Martian atmosphere at 3:00 PM and 3:00 AM every day, but nothing in between. So it was hard to get the full picture or understand the full picture on what's happening, what's going on with the dust, the storms, what is the full picture that is going to help the scientists to better understand the origins and understand some of these information that was not existing previously. Understanding that by needing to do that, it's not that the instruments needs to be super smart or something that out of this world rather than the orbit that we have, we get to choose that we are in the bigger orbit that no other missions are in this orbit. That's the whole reason we got to this big orbit that is as close as 20,000 kilometers from Mars. And as far as 44,000 kilometers from Mars, each orbit that we take, it takes the spacecraft 55 hours to complete one orbit. So you can imagine at some point Mars is rotating beneath the spacecraft. So the spacecraft is in the same position in for a while, but Mars is actually going faster than the spacecraft. So we're able to cover it to get the full coverage of the Martian atmosphere.
Sarah Al-Ahmed: And already that's led to some interesting discoveries about the Martian atmosphere, particularly when combined with climate models. It's teaching us a lot. So are there any larger patterns that we're kind of seeing in the Martian atmosphere with Hope right now?
Mohsen Al Awadhi: The data that we still have, some of them are part of what we've been looking forward to do to meet the science objectives of the mission. And some are outside of the scope, like the discrete aurora for example. That is a phenomena that the team knew that existed. There were papers about them, but this was the first time that this mission is actually capturing that data and able to be representing it in images. For the main science goals and objectives, the closeout for getting that full motion year is completed approximately sometime towards September of this year. Because whenever we receive the science data, the science team takes approximately three months to four months to validate that data, and that is just the part that they make sure that whatever data is being available to the public, it's validated, it's accurate, there's no missing information in it. And only after that is when the team goes and does the analysis on these data and do their studies and the reporting and the EMM publishing papers on them. We were filling that process, I would say not before the end of this year we will be able to provide at least that first results of what we've seen from the full Martian year.
Sarah Al-Ahmed: And you bring up the aurorae on Mars. I think what's really interesting about that is that Martian aurorae are nothing like we see here on Earth. On Earth we've got this really nice magnetic field that encompasses the entire planet and protects us from the sun's rays blowing our atmosphere off. But as you said, Mars is in this weird situation where most of the air has already been just destroyed and blown away from this planet by the sun. And the aurorae that we're seeing there are very different. They're these kind of spotty proton aurorae. I was really intrigued to see all that come out. I found it on your Twitter originally,
Mohsen Al Awadhi: That was definitely a moment that even for the science team that we were working with, that we never thought that our instrument will be able to capture such a thing. In the designing process that was not something we had on mind, but it is those coincidence that we've designed something for a different purpose, but it's actually meeting another purpose as well. There was ideas and thoughts about how this might look like, but being able to put that into an actual representation was really amazing to be able to have done that with this mission.
Sarah Al-Ahmed: We'll be right back with the rest of my interview with Mohsen Al Awadhi after a short message from The Planetary Society's CEO, Bill Nye, the Science Guy.
Bill Nye: Greetings. Bill Nye here, CEO of The Planetary Society. As a Planetary Society supporter, you're part of the largest and most influential nonprofit space organization in the world. So thank you. Together we can create a bigger, bolder future for humankind. With 81 new members in Congress and several returning members joining space related committees which could impact NASA's future projects, our time to act is now. You enable our team to make sure every US representative and senator understands how space exploration can support the nation's goals and technology, workforce development, international relations and science. Right now our members are reaching out to Congress with petitions and phone calls during this important budget season. Then in September, we'll hold our annual day of action. Members like you and me will go to Capitol Hill in Washington DC and meet with members of Congress and their staffs to advocate for higher NASA funding. You want to know one thing you can do right now to support all this work? Visit planetary.org/take action and donate. Your gift today will be matched up to $75,000, thanks to a generous Planetary Society member. As part of The Planetary Society team, you can help create a better future for all humankind. Let's change the world.
Sarah Al-Ahmed: Both ESAs, I think Mars Express and NASA's Maven Mission, they detected proton aurorae but not like this. It's not consistent across the entire atmosphere. It's like these spotty little moments. I feel like that can probably teach us a lot about the way that the solar wind is interacting with the Martian atmosphere that's going to be really useful.
Mohsen Al Awadhi: Agreed.
Sarah Al-Ahmed: Recently The Planetary Society, we just launched our new member community app and one of our members, Laura Monahan from Folsom, California wanted me to ask you if there are any Hope discoveries that have really surprised you so far.
Mohsen Al Awadhi: I don't want to call it surprise, but proud that the mission is actually working out really well when it comes to providing these data back to us. Not saying that we as a team did not put all of the effort but doing it for the first time, it's definitely something, and it was at least in my back of mind that what if we are designing is not able to actually do what it's supposed to do. I don't want to call it that I was surprised that everything is working, but it was hard to believe that we made it. We were able to have a successful mission that is actually bringing us back important science data. But when it comes to the science aspect of the mission itself, I think the discrete aurora specifically was something that put me at surprise, something we didn't consider at all to work on or even think about providing any data on. That was one of those moments that was like, wow, this is going beyond what it's supposed to be doing. What I'm proud of again, how the engagement that I'm seeing on the social media, how people are utilizing the data that's available to them to do their own analysis, utilizing the data and just going ahead and posting what they have done with these data. So that is something again, makes us feel really happy and proud that people are utilizing, everyone is getting access to these information and data to be able to provide what they're providing and what they're representing as well.
Sarah Al-Ahmed: Every time a new Hope image hits the internet, I feel excited and I love that the data from the spacecraft is just being provided to everyone on the internet because it means that image processors and people all around the world who want to know more about Mars and incorporate Hope data into their studies can just do that. Already, there's just piles of papers that are coming out, not just about the discreet aurorae, but about atmospheric waves and weird cloud belts. And I cannot wait to see what people do with this data over the next few years. But this is just the beginning. Hope is about to go on a whole new adventure. It's already begun and it's changed its orbit to go investigate Deimos. Why has your team chosen to change the orbit of the spacecraft in such a big way in order to check out this moon?
Mohsen Al Awadhi: Deimos, starting with the mission, we never talked about it. We never publicly announced it, but we always knew that due to the orbit we are in, there is a big opportunity that we can do something with Deimos. We never put it in the baseline either. So it was never part of the requirements, it was never part of the design. It was an opportunity that existed. We kept it there and without putting a lot of attention to it other than if we are under the science orbit, we are doing everything as needed and if we see this opportunity again, we will do something about it. So we got that question asked a lot during the design of the mission, because again, if you look at the orbits, you can see how close we are actually to Deimos. And one thing to clarify, it's not a change to the orbit as much as really minor maneuvers to the positioning of the spacecraft. So the orbit that I talked about, which is in EMM's orbit, the 20,000 kilometers to approximately 44,000 kilometers, that is still the same. The numbers are really minor that we did changes that is not impacting the science of the mission. So the science objectives what was always the first thing that needs to be done with the change that we've done to the positioning or the orbit again, if we call it. But again, with the minor one allowed us to have a better visibility and positioning as well to capture data from Deimos. So we are hoping sometime soon we will be able to start announcing the first images of Deimos. Again, this was an opportunity that existed from day one and we took that opportunity but without impacting the main size objectives of the mission.
Sarah Al-Ahmed: That's so exciting. The images of Mars from Hope have been so beautiful, but we haven't had a lot of images of Deimos over the years. I mean some, it doesn't get as much love as Phobos does, but I cannot wait to see these pictures and I'm going to share them with everyone. Are there any other things coming out of the UAE space agency that we should keep an eye out for? You don't have to reveal any secret missions, but I would love to know.
Mohsen Al Awadhi: No, I don't think I'm aware of any secret missions yet. But the lunar mission, I know the team from the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre are considering now the lunar mission too and that what that will look like. But it's in the really early stages and just a concept that the team is working on. From our side, from the space agency at the asteroid belt mission is something we're working towards right now heavily. And recently we also announced a new program called Sub and Serb. Basically it's a translation directly from Arabic that it means constellation. So it's basically a constellation of three satellites that is focusing on Earth. It's providing synthetic aperture radar images, and that is the first of its kind for the UAE to develop such a payload. And then the other project that the Space Agency is funding, some of them are on a small scale with the university's training programs. Some of them are CubeSats, but the flagship missions as of today, the Asteroid Belt Mission is the next Emirate Mars Mission, the next interplanetary mission that UAE is sending.
Sarah Al-Ahmed: I'm just so impressed with what the UAE Space Agency has accomplished so far and its aspirations in the future. It's absolutely mind-blowing that the space agency that just got off the ground less than a decade ago is doing all of these amazing things. And I'm so happy that people like you have had an opportunity to shift to space and make it your whole life. That's just so exciting.
Mohsen Al Awadhi: Yeah, it's definitely an opportunity that I think every UAE citizen wanted to take a try at and really grateful that I was given that opportunity. And being trusted enough was such a huge responsibility, to first make sure whatever we are learning is going to the new coming generation. But at the same time, what we in the UAE are pushed with is we are not going to be able to take our time. We're playing the catch up game. We are behind. So for us to reach the major agencies, we need to push things. We need to expedite things. Being okay with taking calculated risks, being uncomfortable as engineers when working and designing with pushing the boundaries and the limitation. And it's all about get things done as soon as possible. Try to minimize the risk as much as possible. Again, limited budget to produce something is also that is beneficial to the science community. So you're not just doing something just to say that I've done it. No, it needs to be beneficial to the science community.
Sarah Al-Ahmed: Do you have any advice for people around the world that are hoping to get their nations to Mars? You guys have done so much so quickly. What would you say to them?
Mohsen Al Awadhi: Not only Mars, but for going to space itself, it's quite challenging. It's not an easy field or a sector to be in. Whatever you design here on Earth needs to survive an environment that you know only get to mimic here on Earth and only get to simulate here on Earth. And knowing again that failing such a mission, it doesn't really mean that you failed. I think what we always focus on is the knowledge that you gain throughout these missions as you are implementing it, as you are designing it. It's not a correct statement, but with every mission on the minimum, there is a 50% chance that you might fail. And that is by going to the launch vehicle, the launch vehicle itself, it might work, it might not work. So that's your 50 50 and that is something even outside of your control. But things are not as expensive as they used to be. That is something we always make sure that just because we are in the UAE or in the Gulf region, there is a lot of thought that yes, we have unlimited source of budget to do such missions. And that's not the case. It's exactly the opposite. Today the space is not as expensive as it used to be, the launch vehicles today are not as expensive as they used to be. So access to space is definitely getting easier. And collaboration, again, it's key to success. That's one model that the UAE space agency is following, is rather than reinventing the wheel and trying to create something from scratch that will need more budget, will need more time, you partner up with someone that understands you, you understand them, the goal is one, and you gain that momentum from there. And I think that that was a big lessons learned for us and that's the mechanism that we have in place today that how can we even get more partners with us in the space sector so we can work on missions together. And I think that would be a perfect listening time for all space agencies to conduct. And I think the Emirates Mars Mission was a life example of how a young nation was able to get support from the US from a university in the US to get it to Mars and a country at that point, we are only 50 years old as a country.
Sarah Al-Ahmed: I want to wish you and everyone else at the UAE Space Agency luck with all of your future missions. Thank you so much for joining me today, Mohsen.
Mohsen Al Awadhi: So really thank you for having me. Thanks for the opportunity to be able to share the journey and talk a little bit about what we've been doing here in the UAE and looking forward more of discussions in the near future.
Sarah Al-Ahmed: I cannot wait for these images of Deimos to hit the internet. It's a shame that now's not the best moment to go outside and spot Mars, but there are plenty of beautiful things to catch in the night sky. Here's Bruce Betts, the chief scientist of The Planetary Society for What's Up. Hey Bruce.
Bruce Betts: Hey Sarah.
Sarah Al-Ahmed: All this talk of Hope and space bringing us together, you're always the skeptical and thoughtful voice that I can go to counter my space optimism. But I got to ask, what are you hopeful or excited about for the future of space exploration?
Bruce Betts: Well, I am actually excited. I'm just trying to be realistic about different missions and their probabilities of success. And sometimes that casts me as the bad guy. But in this case, I'm not going to talk about individual missions, which will continue to have failures and successes. But the mere fact that we really have the most planetary exploration going on pretty much ever. A lot of smaller missions, but they're more capable because of what they're carrying. A lot of different countries involved. There's a lot going on. Of course we've got humans going back to the moon, but we also have really great missions lined up for the outer solar system, for Venus. There's still a fleet of amazing spacecraft at Mars for Mars sample return. There's a lot of good stuff coming up and I could list it, but then I'd forget something.
Sarah Al-Ahmed: So what can we hope to see in the night sky this week, Bruce?
Bruce Betts: You can hope to see Venus over in the West after sunset. Still the brightest star-like object up there. Mars is high in the sky but has gotten kind of dim and reddish and it's going to be saying goodbye to Orion and the other bright stars that hang out with it over the coming weeks. Orion will drop more. Mars will still hang in there for a few more months and Venus will be with us for a few more months. I mean, they're always with us, but they'll be visible. And then in the predawn sky, yellower Saturn still visible in the East. We got cool stuff on the April 10th and 11th. On the 10th and 11th, Venus will be right near the Pleiades star cluster. So the clump of similar brightness stars with where the cute little baby stars are forming. And that'll make for a nice pairing. And if you got a clear view to the horizon, you should be able to see Mercury looking bright, not compared to Venus, but Mercury will reach its highest point of this particular motion on the 11th as well. And later in the month, I'll tease a hybrid solar eclipse. If you're in various parts of Indonesia or far Western Australia or the ocean, if you just hang out in the ocean over there and a meteor shower, not a bad meteor shower in the Lyrid. So that's coming up later.
Sarah Al-Ahmed: Yeah, it sparks the thought that in the future, we're a little less than a year away from that total solar eclipse that's coming up through Mexico and the United States and a little bit of Canada. So far far future, I'm hoping people are already planning for that, because that's going to be amazing. That's on my mind because it's a year out.
Bruce Betts: Have you seen a total solar eclipse?
Sarah Al-Ahmed: I did in 2017.
Bruce Betts: Well then I did too. I mean, why bother to see another one?
Sarah Al-Ahmed: Are you kidding?
Bruce Betts: I'm kidding. It was Earth. It was amazing. It was incredible. I talk it up all the time. It's well worth the effort to go. The challenge is always, you never quite know if you're going to get clouded out, which would be a drag, but ...
Sarah Al-Ahmed: But at least we live on a planet where it's possible and you don't have to sail across the galaxy to try to find the one place where you can sit on the surface and see that beautiful total solar eclipse.
Bruce Betts: Gosh, you're positive.
Sarah Al-Ahmed: Yep.
Bruce Betts: Let us move on to this week in space history. Looking back for a moment, although looking to the present and the past, 2001 Mars Odyssey launches. Still in orbit and as far as I know, still working, doing good stuff around the Red Planet 22 years later, it's incredible. Some hardware that did not work as well, but worked well enough, launched in 1970, Apollo 13 launched this week, 1970.
Sarah Al-Ahmed: Wow.
Bruce Betts: We move on [inaudible 00:55:04]
Sarah Al-Ahmed: I think you could have been a dog in another life and you'd probably be a very adorable one.
Bruce Betts: Aw, thank you. I'm kind of a dog in this life sometimes. So you've probably wondered OSIRIS-REx, how does it compare to, I don't know, Tyrannosaurus Rex? Well, if you've wondered this, here's a little bit of an answer. Without fuel, the mass of the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft, it would take about 10 of those spacecraft to make the mass of a big T-Rex.
Sarah Al-Ahmed: I've never asked that question before, but I really should have because that's awesome.
Bruce Betts: If you go with the so-called wet mass with it totally fueled, which of course it's not now because it's been flying for a while, then you still get four to five OSIRIS-REx. Yeah, those, I think we've learned a lesson here.
Sarah Al-Ahmed: I think we need a graphic for scale.
Bruce Betts: Yeah, don't mess with T-Rex, I think.
Sarah Al-Ahmed: Or OSIRIS-REx. It will punch an asteroid and take some stuff.
Bruce Betts: Don't mess with a spacecraft that steals from asteroids, man. Let us go on to the trivia question. So we asked you what do astronomers call a ring caused by gravitational lensing? And I could see a couple possible answers, but how'd we do?
Sarah Al-Ahmed: We did really well. People loved this one. Our winner this week is Kevin Nifta from Fork River, New Jersey, USA, who gave us all of the answers. Said astronomers call the ring created by gravitational lensing, an Einstein ring, aka Einstein-Chwolson ring or Chwolson ring.
Bruce Betts: Yeah, baby.
Sarah Al-Ahmed: So Kevin, you're going to be winning a planetary society beanie. We'll send that to you.
Bruce Betts: Cool.
Sarah Al-Ahmed: I liked this comment from Edwin King, from Norwich UK. He wrote in to say that he really liked this question because it meant that he came across the Cheshire Cat cluster for the first time, which is awesome. It's actually my favorite gravitational lensing image, which is really not surprising at all, but I always just called it the smiley face.
Bruce Betts: It's named after a cat and you liked it?
Sarah Al-Ahmed: Yeah. Surprise. Total surprise. But 10 out of 10, I recommend that if anybody hasn't seen this beautiful smiley face image, look up the Hubble images of this thing. I guarantee you it'll put a smile on your face. And this one made me really happy too. Nicholas Janssen from Tucson, Arizona said, "I've been listening for three years now and I'm so grateful that there's a reliable source of astronomy news and thank you all."
Bruce Betts: Hey, that's nice.
Sarah Al-Ahmed: I'm really grateful that there are people out there like you that want to learn more about space and sharing this beautiful space adventure with us. So thank you.
Bruce Betts: We move on to the new question. This is one that you will know the answer to, Sarah.
Sarah Al-Ahmed: Hopefully.
Bruce Betts: No, no, you will. In the Lore of the Destiny video games ...
Sarah Al-Ahmed: Okay. Yeah. I know this one.
Bruce Betts: On what planet was the city Freehold?
Sarah Al-Ahmed: Oh.
Bruce Betts: Go to planetary.org/radiocontest
Sarah Al-Ahmed: And you have until April 12th at 8:00 AM Pacific time to get us your answer. And we'll be sending you another Goodnight Oppy Thermal Mug. I'm over here just giving out Oppy Thermal Mugs, but I'll just make it rain Oppy Thermal Mugs until I don't have anymore, because they're awesome.
Bruce Betts: That is awesome.
Sarah Al-Ahmed: And everyone out there, we really Hope that you're enjoying this podcast. So if you could take a moment and go on to your favorite platform that you've listened to this podcast on, leave us a little rating or review. It'll really help us reach a whole new audiences and share more of the passion and beauty and joy of space with everyone. So we'd really appreciate that.
Bruce Betts: All right, everybody go out there, look up the night sky and think about, yeah. Hope for the future. Thank you and goodnight.
Sarah Al-Ahmed: We've reached the end of this week's episode of Planetary Radio, but we'll be back next week to share the biggest Space Party of the Year, Yuri's Night, and remember, space friends, whenever you're feeling down, look to the stars for hope burns bright. Planetary Radio is produced by The Planetary Society in Pasadena, California and is made possible by our hope-filled members. You can join us as we continue to shape the future of humanity's presence in space at planetary.org/join. Mark Hilverda and Rae Paoletta are our associate producers. Andrew Lucas is our audio editor. Josh Doyle composed our theme, which is arranged and performed by Pieter Schlosser. And until next week, ad astra.