China Successfully Launches First Independent Mission to Mars

Katie Ramirez
July 27, 2020

China says it has successfully launched a rover to Mars, a journey coinciding with a similar U.S. mission as the two powers take their rivalry into deep space. Today's launch marks a new era for China's space ambitions, attempting three milestones that took the USA decades to do in individual pieces: orbiting Mars, executing a soft landing on Mars, and driving a rover on the surface of Mars.

Engines blazing orange, a Long March-5 carrier rocket took off under clear skies around 12:40 p.m. from Hainan Island, south of China's mainland.

The six-wheeled robot, called Tianwen-1, is due to enter the red planet's orbit in February where it will remain for two to three months before attempting a soft landing on its surface. To accomplish the mission's assignments, the lander and the rover must sustain undisturbed power generation and remain in contact with ground control even amid unpredictable scenarios on the Martian surface such as the planet's frequent dust storms, he said. China took its first step in planetary exploration to Mars.

The spacecraft will travel for about seven months until it reaches Mars. That's when we're going back to Mars.

"China's Tianwen-1 mission includes an orbiter and a rover, so actually we're sending two probes to Mars together", said Geng.

NASA's newest rover Perseverance - other rovers have landed on Mars earlier - will look for signs of habitable conditions on Mars and microbial life in its ancient past.

In recent decades, China has poured billions of dollars into its space program to catch up with the United States, Russia and Europe.

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- The United Arab Emirates launched its first mission to Mars, the Hope Probe, from Japan's Tanegashima Space Center on July 20. The next challenge is for the probe to be "still working when it gets to Mars and survives entry and landing".

Landing on Mars is notoriously hard.

If everything goes according to plan with the Tianwen-1 mission, China will be the third country to land, and the second country to rove on Mars.

As for how soon we can expect to see humans on the Red Planet, Logsdon said that "depends on whether you believe Elon Musk or not".

NASA's Perseverance Mars rover is set tobe launched on Thursday, July 30, on a journey created to search for astrobiological evidence of ancient microbial life on Mars, according to NASA.

Built-in NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab in Southern California, Perseverance measures around 3 metres in length and weighs more than a tonne, making it the largest and heaviest robotic Mars rover NASA has built.

But given Musk's recent closeness to China, it's unclear if he'd ever consider launching from that country instead of the US, something that would be a huge blow to American prestige in space. One such NASA-affiliated observatory spotted the recently-launched Chinese Mars mission and shared its bright images on Twitter.

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