China has successfully launched its first major interplanetary mission to Mars. The start begins with a long seven-month journey through space. Once the mission reaches the Red Planet, China could be the second nation to ever land and operate a rover on the surface of Mars.
China's mission is called Tianwen-1 and consists of a Mars orbiter, a lander and a rover. The trio started in the early hours of July 23 on Long March 5 from the Chinese launch site for spaceships in Wenchang. The Long March 5 is one of the most powerful rockets in China, and this mission was only the fourth launch for this type of vehicle.
China sends its first mission to Mars. Tianwen-1 was launched from Wenchang on a journey that will last until next year towards the red planet. #Mars pic.twitter.com/9PmlzHCoEe
– China Xinhua News (@XHNews) July 23, 2020
Once they reach the Red Planet, all three spaceships will work together to study the geology of Mars and learn more about what could be lurking beneath the planet's surface. As the orbiter maps and maps Mars from above, the lander and rover finally drop the nightmare onto the surface of Mars. If they make it to the ground intact, the lander acts as a delivery platform and offers the rover a ramp to roll away and cross the Martian terrain.
An artist's impression of the rover and lander Tianwen-1 on the surface of Mars
Photo: Xinhua via Getty Images
Only the United States has successfully landed robotic spacecraft on Mars that can explore the surface. In fact, no other nation has had much success landing on Mars. Europe has attempted to land spacecraft on Mars twice, which has failed both times. The Soviet Union's Mars 3 spacecraft landed in 1971 and communicated for about 20 seconds before unexpectedly darkening. If China's landing is successful, it has accomplished a feat that only NASA has mastered and elevated the nation to an elite level in the global space community.
Tianwen-1 is actually the second mission to Mars this summer. The United Arab Emirates launched its first interplanetary mission on July 19, sending an orbiter named Hope to Mars to investigate the planet's weather. Next up is NASA, which is well on track to launch its next Mars rover on July 30th. The rover, known as persistence, is said to look for signs of past life on Mars and dig up samples of Martian dirt that may one day be brought back to Earth for investigation.