China successfully launches first ever mission to Mars

The secretive space mission is called Tianwen-1 and is scheduled to land on Mars in seven months time.

China has officially entered the Mars space race with the successful launch of Tianwen-1, an unmanned rover that will land sometime in February if all goes well.

It would make China the second country to land and operate a rover on Mars after the US. The Tianwen-1 consists of an orbiter, lander, and rover, and was launched at China’s Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site on 23rd July. The plan is to orbit around Mars and land on Utopia Planitia, where there might be evidence of underground ice. From there, the rover will study the planet’s geology and learn about what could be underneath the surface.

It’s one of three rockets being launched over the next few weeks. The Hope probe developed by the United Arab Emirates successfully took off on 20th July but will only be orbiting Mars, and the US will be launching a new rover called Perseverance in Florida on 30th July. Nations are eager to get their rovers and probes on course for Mars while it orbits close to Earth, making this an ideal time to blast off into the stars.

Why are countries racing to get to Mars?

With successful space programmes comes international prestige.

The US has historically been at the forefront of innovations with space travel and research, but things are beginning to shift significantly. China is scheduled to have its first space station up and running by 2022, a few years before the International Space Station is decommissioned. These latest Mars missions are also helping to establish Asian territories as serious contenders against the US, though it still remains a force to be reckoned with – especially with Elon Musk and SpaceX.

A satellite-based global navigation system is currently in development and is being worked on by the US, Russia, Europe, and China, and experts say that China is not trying to overtake the US’s lead on the project. It seems mostly interested in competing with Nasa’s Mars rover research.

Should we be concerned?

China’s space programme is very secretive. We don’t even know the name of its rover that’ll be scuttling about on Mars should it get there, and national security concerns have stalled cooperation between Nasa and China. Considering that China only hired its first astronaut in 2003 its space programme has developed very rapidly, and we don’t know exactly how that’s been achieved.

Given the state’s recent actions against Hong Kong protestors it’s not out of the question to be a little concerned about China potentially violating human rights or engaging in unethical practices for the sake of scientific progress. Conquering Mars also lends validity to China’s communist state, and gives the country additional international legitimacy.

Perhaps the best news out of all this political competition and showboating is that science benefits greatly. With more detailed understandings of Mars we may be able to get a clearer picture as to its history soon – including knowing if it once was home to life. In the meantime, how China’s developing space programme affects world politics in the future is still unknown.


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