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China launched its first independent probe to Mars on Thursday. The mission is to deploy a small remote-controlled robot to explore the red planet.

The probe was propelled by a Long March 5 rocket which took off on Thursday in a thick cloud of smoke from the Wenchang launch center, on the Chinese island of Hainan, in southern China.

And within about seven months, if all goes well, it should land on the Red Planet. China is taking advantage of the current reduced distance between Earth and the red planet, 55 million kilometers.

With this mission, named “Tianwen-1” (“Questions to the sky-1”) in homage to a poem from ancient China that deals with astronomy, China hopes to place a probe in orbit, land a lander on Mars, then bring out a small unmanned robot to carry out analyzes on the surface for 90 days. Enough to allow China, in the midst of a diplomatic and technological war with the United States, to regain some prestige.

China has already run two small robots on the Moon in 2013 and 2019, but the Earth-Mars distance is 140 times greater than the Earth-Moon path. The success of the mission is therefore not a given.

China is not alone in wanting to send a probe to Mars this year. The United Arab Emirates have propelled their (“Hope”) on Monday and the United States will launch one (“March 2020”) on July 30.

(With AFP and Reuters)

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