Science News

Factbox: Mission to Mars - the race for the Red Planet

(Reuters) - China is scheduled to launch an unmanned probe to Mars on Thursday, aiming to demonstrate its technological prowess as it makes a bid for global leadership in space with its first independent mission to visit another planet.

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Here are some facts about missions to Mars by China and other countries:

- China’s unmanned Mars probe, named Tianwen-1 after “Tianwen”, or “Questions to Heaven”, comprises an orbiter, lander and rover to be delivered by the powerful Long March 5 rocket. If successful, it will make China the first country to orbit, land and deploy a rover in its inaugural mission.

- The Long March 5’s journey through space will take about seven months, while landing will take seven minutes. China’s probe will carry several scientific instruments to observe the planet’s atmosphere and surface, searching for signs of water and ice.

- In 2003, China became the third country to put a man in space with its own rocket after the former Soviet Union and the United States. In 2011, a joint Mars mission with Russia failed when the Russian spacecraft carrying the probe failed to exit the Earth’s orbit and disintegrated over the Pacific Ocean.

(Open here in an external browser to see a collection of graphics on space missions)

- Six spacecraft are currently orbiting Mars - three American, two European and one Indian. NASA has two operational spacecraft on the surface.

- The United Arab Emirates launched its first mission to Mars, the Hope Probe, from Japan’s Tanegashima Space Center on July 20. The first Arab mission to the Red Planet, it is due to arrive there in seven months and head into orbit to gather atmospheric data.

- NASA has already sent 4 Martian rovers to the Red Planet, having learned crucial lessons from the Curiosity rover that landed on the planet’s surface in 2012 and continues to traverse a Martian plain southeast of 820-foot-deep (250-meter-deep) Jezero Crater, once thought to have been a lake the size of Lake Tahoe.

- NASA’s InSight spacecraft, the first robotic lander designed to study the deep interior of a distant world, touched down safely on the surface of Mars in November 2018 with instruments to detect planetary seismic rumblings never measured anywhere but Earth.

- NASA is planning the launch of a fifth rover, named Perseverance, this year. Four-wheeled and car-sized, the robotic rover will scour the base of Mars’ Jezero Crater, once the craft lands in February 2021. The mission will carry equipment that can turn carbon dioxide, which is pervasive on Mars, into oxygen for breathing and for use as a propellant.

- The Soviet Union is the only other country to successfully land a rover on Mars. In 2016, a European space probe was destroyed on impact when it attempted a surface landing. Attempts by China and Japan to send orbiters around Mars were unsuccessful. Another launch initially planned for this year, the EU-Russian ExoMars, was postponed for two years due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Compiled by Karishma Singh; edited by Jane Wardell