China’s first Mars mission launches

Business & Technology

China launched its first mission to Mars today, just one part of the country’s space program that has interplanetary ambitions.

China’s first independent Mars mission Tianwen 1
A Chinese state media rendering of the Mars rover that launched today.

Today, China’s first independent Mars mission, Tianwen 1 — tiānwèn 天问 means “heavenly questions” — successfully launched out of the Wenchang Space Launch Center on Hainan Island. The mission is expected to orbit, land, and rove the Red Planet after its arrival in approximately seven months.

A group of Chinese scientists published an article in the journal Nature saying that the mission, if successful, would “signify a major technical breakthrough,” and that “Tianwen-1 is the most comprehensive mission to investigate the Martian morphology, geology, mineralogy, space environment, and soil and water-ice distribution.” Its rocket — dubbed the Long March 5 — carries with it 13 scientific payloads to carry out these tasks.

For top officials in Washington, Vice President Pence included, this launch represents China’s most ambitious move yet in a “new space race.” If successful, China will be the third country, after the U.S. and Russia, to land a spacecraft on Mars’s surface. According to Sixth Tone, China’s burgeoning space program has set a goal to go one step further and bring back samples by 2030 — a feat that no nation has been able to pull off thus far.

For further reporting, see the Wall Street Journal and Xinhua.