China launches missile for its first landing on Mars

China launched a rocket with a spaceship on board to Mars. The launch vehicle of the new, high-performance type “Long March 5” took off on Thursday from the space station in Wenchang on the south Chinese island of Hainan. The five-ton spaceship consists of an orbiter, a landing device and a vehicle the size of a golf cart.

Unlike other space nations, China plans to try landing on the Red Planet on its first independent Mars mission. The spaceship is scheduled to reach Mars in February, but will not land until two or three months later. The name “Tianwen-1” can be translated as “Questions to Heaven” and is borrowed from an ancient Chinese poem.

If the mission succeeds, China would be the second nation to land on Mars and operate a rover after the United States. Russia had landed in 1971, but communication broke down immediately after touchdown. A landing on Mars is considered to be particularly risky. So far, only half of all attempts have been successful. China’s mission is one of three flights to Mars this summer.

Mars is closest to Earth between July and August – a constellation like this only occurs every two years. In the early Monday morning, the United Arab Emirates launched the first Arabian Mars probe into space using a Japanese rocket. But it should not land. In a week, the United States plans to launch a spaceship to land on Mars with the Perseverance rover.

The Chinese launch was eagerly awaited because the new “Long March 5” rocket was deployed, and there had been some failures in its development.