China lands spaceship on Mars

China has landed a spacecraft containing a rover on Mars, according to state media, further sign of its daring ambitions in the sphere.

The rover was part of the Tianwen-1 unmanned mission launched in July of last year. Tianwen means “questions in heaven” and was named after a poem by Chinese poet Qu Yuan.

The mission, which was described by Chinese media as a “major new step” and the “first step in China’s planetary exploration of the solar system,” aimed to match United States by successfully landing on the red planet.

The Global Times reported that the Tianwen-1 spacecraft’s lander and rover reached a plain on Mars called Utopia Planitia early Saturday morning local time, citing information from the China National Space Administration.

The Tianwen-1 spacecraft’s lander and rover separated with the orbiter around 4 a.m., after which it made a three-hour flight before entering Mars’ atmosphere, the newspaper said.

The spacecraft then “spent about nine minutes decelerating, hovering to avoid obstacles and cushioning, before its soft landing.” The rover is named Zhurong in honor of a Chinese fire god, is 1.85 m tall and weighs 240 kg. It is expected to cross the planet for about 92 days.

The probe was launched into space on July 23 by the Long March 5 rocket from the Wenchang launch pad in southern Hainan province.

The completion of the Mars landing is part of a larger expansion of China’s space program. The country’s engineers launched the first part of its permanent space station into Earth orbit late last month.

In 2018, China for the first time launched more ships into orbit than any other country.

U.S. sees China’s efforts in space in strategic terms. “Beijing is striving to match or exceed US capabilities in space to achieve the military, economic and prestige advantages Washington has accumulated through space leadership,” according to the bureau’s annual threat assessment the US director of national intelligence.

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