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A spacecraft from the United Arab Emirates swung into orbit around Mars on Tuesday in a triumph for the Arab world's first interplanetary mission.
Ground controllers at the UAE's space centre in Dubai rose to their feet and applauded when word came that the unmanned craft, called Amal, Arabic for Hope, had reached the end of its nearly seven-month, 300-million-mile journey and had begun circling the red planet, where it will gather detailed data on Mars' atmosphere.
The orbiter fired its main engines for 27 minutes in an intricate, high-stakes manoeuvre that slowed the craft enough for it to be captured by Mars' gravity. It then took a nail-biting 15 minutes or so for the signal confirming success to reach Earth. Tensions were high: Over the years, Mars has been the graveyard for a multitude of missions from various countries.
To a standing ovation, a visibly relieved Omran Sharaf, the mission's director, declared, "To the people of the UAE and Arab and Islamic nations, we announce the success of the UAE reaching Mars."
British Ambassador to the United Arab Emirates, Patrick Moody tweeted, "Congratulations UAE! You have shown the world what vision knowledge and commitment can achieve. #ArabsToMars #HopeProbe"
An ebullient Mohammed bin Zayed, the UAE's day-to-day ruler, was on hand at mission control and said: "Congratulations to the leadership and people of the UAE for the indescribable joy of the arrival at Mars."
Amal's arrival puts the UAE in a league of just five space agencies in history that have pulled off a functioning Mars mission. As the country's first venture beyond Earth's orbit, the flight is a point of intense pride for the oil-rich nation as it seeks a future in space.
Two more unmanned spacecraft from the US and China are following close behind, set to arrive at Mars over the next several days. All three missions were launched in July to take advantage of the close alignment of Earth and Mars.
(With inputs from PTI)