BEIJING, July 23 (Xinhua) -- China's successful launch of its first Mars mission on Thursday attracted global attention as the country has taken the first step in its planetary exploration of the solar system.
The Mars probe aims to complete orbiting, landing and roving in one mission.
The mission -- consisting of an orbiter, a lander, and a rover -- is "the most ambitious thing one could do on a first attempt," says John Logsdon, a space policy expert at George Washington University.
Chinese scientists are preparing for more missions in the Tianwen series, including ventures to return rock samples from Mars and an asteroid, to perform a flyby of Jupiter and to explore the margins of the sun's vast heliosphere. But if Tianwen-1 reaches Mars as planned, "it will put China in the space exploration business in a big way," said Logsdon.
"Mars mission would put China among space leaders ... A Mars landing is among the most challenging feats in spaceflight," said the Science magazine in a news piece published on June 25.
China's first Mars mission is named Tianwen-1, which literally means Questions to Heaven and comes from a poem written by Qu Yuan (about 340-278 BC), one of the greatest poets of ancient China. The name signifies the Chinese nation's perseverance in pursuing truth and science and exploring nature and the universe, said the China National Space Administration (CNSA).
"Tianwen-1 -- 'quest for heavenly truth' -- consists of not only an orbiter, but also a lander and a rover, a trifecta no other nation has accomplished on its first Mars bid," said the Science article.
A Long March-5 rocket, China's largest launch vehicle carrying the spacecraft with a mass of about five tons, soared into the sky from the Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site on the coast of southern China's island province of Hainan at 12:41 p.m. (Beijing Time).
About 36 minutes later, the spacecraft, including an orbiter and a rover, was sent into the Earth-Mars transfer orbit, embarking on an almost seven-month journey to the red planet, according to the CNSA.
"Tianwen-1 is going to orbit, land and release a rover all on the very first try, and coordinate observations with an orbiter. No planetary missions have ever been implemented in this way. If successful, it would signify a major technical breakthrough," said an opinion piece on Nature, a world-renown weekly international science and technology journal.
Deutsche Welle (DW), Germany's international broadcaster, said the mission to Mars is "ambitious," not for the inclusion of an orbiter and a Mars rover, but also because it has only taken China several years from the initial planning and mission design to launch in July 2020.
"As with many Mars missions, Tianwen-1 is about learning more about the Red Planet and, through that, for scientists to learn more about our own planet," the DW added.
The scientific goals of Tianwen-1 include mapping the morphology and geological structure, investigating surface soil characteristics and water-ice distribution, analyzing the surface material composition, measuring the ionosphere and the characteristics of the Martian climate and environment at the surface, and perceiving the physical fields and internal structure of Mars.
"The successful launch is only the first step of China's Mars mission, and we hope each of the many key steps of the long journey is completed successfully," said Geng Yan, an official at the Lunar Exploration and Space Program Center of the CNSA.
The key steps include slowing down when close to Mars, orbiting, separating the landing platform and the rover from the orbiter, landing softly and roving.
The craft is expected to enter the orbit of Mars around February 2021. Afterwards, it will spend two to three months surveying potential landing sites using a high-resolution camera to prepare for the landing in May.