China launches mission to Mars
A Long March-5 carrier rocket lifted off from Hainan Island, south of mainland China, on Thursday to the cheers of onlookers from a beach across the bay. Launch commander Zhang Xueyu confirmed the Tianwen-1, also called “quest for heavenly truth,” entered the scheduled orbit. The spacecraft, which includes an orbiter and a rover, is expected to journey for seven months to Mars, where it will look for underground water and evidence of possible ancient life.
Why launch the mission now? Earth and Mars have approached prime orbital positions for interplanetary travel, opening the launch window to the red planet. On Monday, a United Arab Emirates orbiter blasted off from Japan. The United States is also set to launch its most sophisticated Mars rover from Florida next week.
Dig deeper: Read Julie Borg’s report in Beginnings on Martian lava tubes.
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