And with that, the Chinese space agency has already made it further than during the previous Mars mission.

It worked! The Chinese Mars Mission has officially started. Earlier today, the mission, consisting of a Mars lander, robber and orbiter, chose the airspace. And that is already a milestone. Because it is the first time that a Chinese vessel successfully approaches the red planet.

Launch
The spacecraft rocket was launched into the air from its launch site on the Chinese island of Hainan. The sweat could soon be wiped from the forehead, because everything went according to the book. The marslander, robber and orbiter will now travel to the red planet in seven months. The trio then has to help determine if there has ever been life on Mars or if there may still be life to be found.

The Chinese Marmissie Tianwen-1 takes to the skies. Image: Xinhua / Guo Cheng

The Mars Mission has been given the name Tianwen-1, which means ‘Asking Heaven’. This is from a poem written by Qu Yuan (about 340 and 278 BC); one of the greatest poets from ancient China. “The name emphasizes the perseverance of the Chinese nation in pursuing truth and science and exploring nature and the universe,” said China’s CNSA (China National Space Administration).

Failed
It is not the first time that China has attempted to reach Mars. In 2011, the Marsorbiter Yinghuo-1 was launched into space. Although the probe was launched successfully, it failed to actually set course for Mars. Something went wrong along the way, eventually causing the craft to fall back to Earth and burned in the atmosphere. Hopefully Tianwen-1 has a brighter future. In any case, he has already kicked it further than the previous Mars mission and currently seems to be heading for the red planet.

Hope Probe
The Chinese Mars Mission is not the only one to start now. The Arabian Hope Probe was launched three days ago from the Japanese island of Tanegashima, using a Japanese H-IIA missile . A first for the United Arab Emirates, because it is the first time that the United Arab Emirates has undertaken a mission to Mars. In fact, it is their very first interplanetary mission. The Hope Probe is expected to arrive at Mars in February 2021. Once there, the probe will orbit the red planet and investigate the Martian atmosphere.

Perseverance
In addition, NASA’s Mars rover Perseverance will soon take to the skies. In the Jezero crater, the rover will investigate the Martian climate and actively search for traces of microbes that may have lived on Mars in a gray past. NASA also plans to collect several Mars monsters during the mission that can be picked up and brought to Earth during future Mars missions. When this mission will start exactly remains exciting for a while. The launch was scheduled for last week, but has been delayed by some setbacks. It can now be launched on July 30 at the earliest. If for some reason that fails, NASA has until August 15 to make a new attempt. After that, the chances are gone and we have to wait until 2022.

It is no coincidence that three missions to Mars will be launched in a few weeks. It has everything to do with the position of Mars with respect to Earth. Mars is a little further away from the sun and has an almost twice longer orbital period than our planet. It means that the distance between Earth and Mars varies: one moment the Earth moves away from Mars, the next it approaches. Once every two years, the distance between the two celestial bodies is the smallest and is the ideal time to undertake a mission to Mars. After all, spacecraft can reach the red planet relatively quickly – and with relatively little fuel.

At the moment, Tianwen-1 is rushing to Mars at great speed. However, he still has a long way to go; the vessel has to travel nearly 500 million kilometers to arrive at the red planet. Moreover, China has not made it easy for itself to both nest a probe in orbit around Mars and actually land on the surface. The latter is very difficult. There are only a few minutes between when a spacecraft enters the thin atmosphere of Mars and lands on the red planet. And in those minutes, the spacecraft must decelerate enormously to prevent it from crashing onto the surface of Mars. It will therefore be a few nerve-racking minutes. However, if the Chinese successfully accomplish this, this is a huge step for the Chinese space agency. But we are far from that. We will have to wait a few more months before this story gets a tail.

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