China's Tianwen-1 mission reaches Mars orbit as NASA's Perseverance rover en route

CATHERINE THORBECKE
·2 min read

China's Tianwen-1 mission successfully reached Mars orbit on Wednesday after a nearly 7-month journey from Earth, Chinese state-run news agency Xinhua confirmed.

China's arrival on the Red Planet comes a day after the United Arab Emirates' Hope probe reached Mars' orbit. It also comes approximately a week before the U.S. is set to land NASA's Perseverance rover on Earth's neighboring planet.

MORE: UAE Hope probe reaches Mars orbit ahead of China and US missions

PHOTO: Zhang Rongqiao, chief designer of China's first Mars exploration mission, speaks in an interview at the Beijing Aerospace Control Center in Beijing, Feb. 10, 2021. (Xinhua/Jin Liwang via Newscom)
PHOTO: Zhang Rongqiao, chief designer of China's first Mars exploration mission, speaks in an interview at the Beijing Aerospace Control Center in Beijing, Feb. 10, 2021. (Xinhua/Jin Liwang via Newscom)

The three nations launched their separate Mars missions within days of each other this past July when a once-in-every-two-years launch window opened. The missions took advantage of the rare opportunity to send the missions using the least amount of energy to get from Earth to Mars. Now, the three nations are arriving at Mars one-by-one this February.

MORE: What to know about China, UAE and US missions to Mars this summer

China's ambitious Tianwen-1 mission features an orbiter, a lander and a rover. Tianwen-1 means "Questions to Heaven" and comes from an ancient Chinese poem, Xinhua reported.

Last Friday, the Tainwen-1 sent back its first image of Mars as it approached the planet, according to the Chinese National Space Agency. The black-and-white image was taken approximately approximately 1.3 million miles away from Mars.

PHOTO: Technical personnel celebrate after China's Tianwen-1 probe successfully entered the orbit around Mars at the Beijing Aerospace Control Center in Beijing, Feb. 10, 2021. (Xinhua/Jin Liwang via Newscom)
PHOTO: Technical personnel celebrate after China's Tianwen-1 probe successfully entered the orbit around Mars at the Beijing Aerospace Control Center in Beijing, Feb. 10, 2021. (Xinhua/Jin Liwang via Newscom)

Tianwen-1 is expected to orbit Mars over the next few months and survey potential landing sites for a May or June landing. After the landing, the rover will explore the Red Planet and conduct scientific experiments, according to Xinhua.

PHOTO: The Long March 5 Y-4 rocket, carrying an unmanned Mars probe of the Tianwen-1 mission, takes off from Wenchang Space Launch Center in Wenchang, Hainan Province, China, July 23, 2020. (Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters, FILE)
PHOTO: The Long March 5 Y-4 rocket, carrying an unmanned Mars probe of the Tianwen-1 mission, takes off from Wenchang Space Launch Center in Wenchang, Hainan Province, China, July 23, 2020. (Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters, FILE)

MORE: NASA's Mars Perseverance completes successful launch, will look for signs of 'ancient life'

Thomas Zurbuchen, the associate administrator of NASA's Science Mission Directorate, tweeted his congratulations to China on Wednesday.

"There is much to discover about the mysteries of Mars and we look forward to your contributions!" the NASA official wrote.

On Tuesday, NASA also congratulated to the United Arab Emirates, tweeting an Arab poem from its official handle for the Perseverance rover.

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