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article imageChina joins Mars probe race

By Lucky Malicay     Mar 22, 2016 in Science
China is joining the race to explore Mars as it prepares to launch a probe in 2020, according to an official of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS).
The move came a week after Europe and Russia launched a joint mission to the red planet hoping to find signs of life on the Earth’s neighbor.
The Chinese probe, expected to arrive on Mars in 2021, will consist of a rover, a lander and an orbiter, CAS academician Ye Peijian said.
"Although we are not the first Asian nation to send a probe to Mars, we want to start at a higher level," Ye told the Xinhua News Agency.
"We have less than five years till the launch, but we are confident. The probe is being developed by the team that completed the Chang'e-3 lunar probe."
Ye, a team leader at the China Academy of Space Technology (CAST), said the orbiter will conduct surveys around Mars and that the rover will land on the surface through a device that will likely be a parachute.
Based on a CAST 3D demonstration video, the probe will travel for 10 months before closing on Mars. The lander and the orbiter will split as controllers from Earth will guide the probe into orbit.
The orbiter, tasked to monitor Mars’ environment and take photographs of the planet’s various locations, will stay in orbit for a year.
It is reasonable to kick off the mission at a high level through the combination of the roving probe and the orbiting exploration, according to National Astronomical Observatory associate researcher Zheng Yongchun.
"The best and most direct method to look for evidence of life on Mars is to explore the surface. Mars will be a key focus of China's deep space exploration in the future," said Zheng.
Communication will be a great challenge, but Zheng said China should develop a durable and a powerful system.
"Exploring the red planet and deep space will cement China's scientific and technological expertise. The knock-on effect is that innovations and independent intellectual property rights will surge, and, as a result, China's core competence will increase, pushing development in other industries," says Jia Yang, deputy chief designer of the Chang'e-3 lunar probe.
"As China continues with its lunar mission, glimpsing further and further into deep space, it will play a bigger role in solving key frontier scientific questions.”
On March 14, a Russian rocket took off from a base in Kazakhstan carrying the ExoMars probe, a joint mission by the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Roscosmos.
Aiming to find traces of life on Mars, the probe will explore the atmosphere of the red planet and examine methane and other gases.
"Weirdly, if we find life on Mars is actually really begs the question if we should go at all with human beings because of that idea of planetary protection," said Mark McCaughrean, senior science adviser at ESA, at the agency’s mission control in Darmstadt in Germany, in a report from AP.
"We would take with us bugs, and if now those bugs meet martian bugs, that could be a disaster."
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