WENCHANG: China launched an unmanned probe to Mars on Thursday (Jul 23) in its first independent mission to another planet, a journey coinciding with a similar US mission as the powers take their rivalry into deep space.
The two countries are taking advantage of a period when Earth and Mars are favourably aligned for a short journey, with the US spacecraft due to lift off on Jul 30.
It is a crowded field. The United Arab Emirates launched a probe on Monday that will orbit Mars once it reaches the Red Planet.
But the race to watch is between the United States and China, which has worked furiously to try and match Washington’s supremacy in space.
The Chinese mission has been named Tianwen-1 (“Questions to Heaven”) in a nod to a classical poem that has verses about the cosmos.
It launched on a Long March 5 – China’s biggest space rocket – from the southern island of Hainan.
Tianwen-1 is expected to arrive in February 2021 after a seven-month, 55-million-km voyage.
The mission includes a Mars orbiter, a lander and a rover that will study the planet’s soil.