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article imageChina successfully launches its first Mars rover mission

By Karen Graham     Jul 23, 2020 in Technology
Beijing - China successfully launched an unmanned probe to Mars on Thursday in its first independent mission to another planet, in a display of its technological prowess and ambition to join an elite club of space-faring nations.
The Tianwen-1 mission launched into clear skies atop a Long March 5 rocket from Hainan Island's Wenchang Satellite Launch Center this morning (July 23) at 12:41 a.m. EDT (0441 GMT), reports
China's launch today is the second Mars mission to take off this week. The United Arab Emirates orbiter blasted off on a rocket from Japan on Monday. The Hope orbiter will arrive at Mars in February 2021 to study dust storms and other atmospheric phenomena.
“This is a kind of hope, a kind of strength,” said Li Dapeng, co-founder of the China branch of the Mars Society, an international enthusiast group. He wore a Mars Society T shirt, and was there with his wife, 11-year-old son and 2,000 others on the beach to watch the launch, according to NBC News.
The Tianwen-1 mission is actually a combination of spacecraft - consisting of an orbiter and a lander/rover duo. This makes the mission especially ambitious for China because this has never been done before.
"Tianwen-1 is going to orbit, land and release a rover all on the very first try, and coordinate observations with an orbiter," team members wrote in a recent Nature Astronomy paper outlining the mission's main objectives. "No planetary missions have ever been implemented in this way. If successful, it would signify a major technical breakthrough."
China's Tianwen-1 spacecraft is expected to launch for Mars aboard a Long March 5 rocket
China's Tianwen-1 spacecraft is expected to launch for Mars aboard a Long March 5 rocket
Studying Mars
If all goes well, Tianwen-1 will arrive at the Red Planet in February 2021. Two or three months later, the lander/rover duo will touch down on the Martian surface within a large plain called Utopia Planitia. The plain is located in the planet's Northern Hemisphere, and is the same area where NASA's Viking 2 lander set down in 1976.
The lander/rover duo will carry 13 scientific instruments to observe the planet’s atmosphere and surface, searching for signs of water and ice, reports Reuters.
“Scientists believe there was an ancient ocean in the southern Utopia Planitia. At a place where an ancient ocean and land meet, scientists hope to make a lot of discoveries,” said Liu Tongjie, a spokesman for the mission.
He added that the launch was a “key step of China marching towards farther deep space.” He said that China’s aim wasn’t to compete with other countries, but to peacefully explore the universe.
Here's a bit of space trivia for readers - Sol is the Latin name for the Sun. Sol also refers to a Mars solar day. A sol is the apparent interval between two successive returns of the Sun to the same meridian (sundial time) as seen by an observer on Mars. A Sol is a bit longer than a day on Earth, by about 40 minutes. This makes a Martian year approximately 668 sols, equivalent to approximately 687 Earth days.
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