China rocket takes off to Mars as race with US to land on Red Planet hots up

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China has launched a Mars rocket in its first independent mission to visit another planet.

At 12.41 pm (4.41am GMT), China’s largest carrier rocket, the Long March 5 Y-4, blasted off with the probe from Wenchang Space Launch Centre on the southern island province of Hainan.

Crowds of people clapped and cheered from nearby beaches as the rocket blasted off from the launchpad.

The Tianwen-1 mission is named for a poem by Qu Yuan, who lived from the fourth to third centuries B.C., and is translated as “Questions to Heaven” or “Heavenly Questions.”

It includes an orbiter, a lander and a rover.

The journey will take seven months.

The orbiter will study Mars for 687 Earth days, carrying out investigations into the planet’s magnetic field.

Following NASA’s Viking 2 mission in 1976, it is hoped the Chinese will become only the second country to successfully land on Mars.

The Soviet Union landed a rover in 1971, but it lost contact with the Earth in less than two minutes.

One of the mission’s goals is to further explore layers of ice which were discovered by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

The launch was the second in a week destined for Mars.

On Monday the United Arab Emirates’s Mitsubishi Heavy Industries’ rocket set off for the Red Planet.

NASA’s Perseverance Rover is scheduled to take off next week, also taking advantage of a period that occurs every 26 months when Mars and the Earth are closer than usual.

China became the first nation in history to land and operate a rover on the far side of the Moon last year.

The country has even bolder projects planned for the future, such as visiting an asteroid and as well as Jupiter in the 2030s.

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