The two countries are taking advantage of a period when Earth and Mars are favourably aligned for a short journey, with the US spacecraft due to lift off on July 30.
The Chinese mission is named Tianwen-1 (“Questions to Heaven”) — a nod to a classical poem that has verses about the cosmos.
Engineers and other employees cheered at the launch site on the southern island of Hainan as it lifted off into blue sky aboard a Long March 5 — China’s biggest space rocket.
Site commander Zhang Xueyu declared the mission a success on state broadcaster CCTV.
The five-tonne Tianwen-1 is expected to arrive in February 2021 after a seven-month, 55-million-kilometre (34-million-mile) voyage.
The mission includes a Mars orbiter, a lander and a rover that will study the planet’s soil.
“As a first try for China, I don’t expect it to do anything significant beyond what the US has already done,” said Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.
It is a crowded field. The United Arab Emirates launched a probe on Monday that will orbit Mars once it reaches the Red Planet.
But the race to watch is between the United States and China, which has worked furiously to try and match Washington’s supremacy in space.
NASA, the American space agency, has already sent four rovers to Mars since the late 1990s.
The next one, Perseverance, is an SUV-sized vehicle that will look for signs of ancient microbial life, and gather rock and soil samples with the goal of bringing them back to Earth on another mission in 2031.
Tianwen-1 is “broadly comparable to Viking in its scope and ambition”, said McDowell, referring to NASA’s Mars landing missions in 1975-1976.
After watching the United States and the Soviet Union lead the way during the Cold War, China has poured billions of dollars into its military-led space programme.
“China joining (the Mars race) will change the situation dominated by the US for half a century,” said Chen Lan, an independent analyst at GoTaikonauts.com, which specialises in China’s space programme.
China has made huge strides in the past decade, sending a human into space in 2003.
The Asian powerhouse has laid the groundwork to assemble a space station by 2022 and gain a permanent foothold in Earth orbit.
China has already sent two rovers to the Moon. With the second, China became the first country to make a successful soft landing on the far side.
The Moon missions gave China experience in operating spacecraft beyond Earth orbit, but Mars is another story.
The much greater distance means “a bigger light travel time, so you have to do things more slowly as the radio signal round trip time is large,” said McDowell.
It also means “you need a more sensitive ground station on Earth because the signals will be much fainter,” he added, noting that there is a greater risk of failure.
China has upgraded its monitoring stations in the far-western Xinjiang region and northeastern Heilongjiang province to meet the Mars mission requirements, state news agency Xinhua reported last week.
The majority of the dozens of missions sent by the US, Russia, Europe, Japan and India to Mars since 1960 ended in failure.
Tianwen-1 is not China’s first attempt to go to Mars.
A previous mission with Russia in 2011 ended prematurely as the launch failed.
Now, Beijing is trying on its own.
“As long as (Tianwen) safely lands on the Martian surface and sends back the first image, the mission will… be a big success,” Chen said.
Xi Says CPC is the ‘Strong Force’ to Lead Chinese People Forward
The past 110 years have proven that the Communist Party of China (CPC) is the “strong force” to lead the Chinese people to realize national rejuvenation, President Xi Jinping said at a meeting in Beijing on Saturday marking the 110th anniversary of the 1911 Revolution.
“The Party was chosen to lead by history and by the people… Without the Communist Party there would be no new China and no national rejuvenation,” said Xi, also general secretary of the CPC Central Committee and chairman of the Central Military Commission.
The 1911 Revolution, or Xinhai Revolution, overthrew the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) and put an end to the absolute monarchy in China.
The history of the Xinhai Revolution began with the Wuchang Uprising, an armed rebellion against the Qing Dynasty rulers that broke out on October 10, 1911 in what is today’s Wuchang District, Wuhan City, in central China’s Hubei Province.
The Revolution marked a historic step, leading to the establishment of the Republic of China (1912-1949) and ensuing social changes in the country.
The People’s Republic of China was then founded in 1949.
On Saturday, Xi said that “socialism with Chinese characteristics has proven to be the only correct path” to realize national rejuvenation.
“On the journey ahead, we must uphold and develop socialism with Chinese characteristics, keep adapting Marxism to the Chinese context and the needs of our times, remain firmly committed to our aspiration and our path, and make sure the future of China’s development remains firmly in our own hands,” he said.
Xi added that “the Chinese people must rely on our own heroic efforts” to achieve national rejuvenation. “Never has history taken a peaceful or tranquil course; it has always advanced amid setbacks and difficulties.”
He quoted late Chinese leader Mao Zedong, who said: “Our forefathers never stopped waging unyielding struggles against domestic and foreign oppressors… By our own indomitable efforts, we the Chinese people will unswervingly reach our goal.”
Xi called on China to “seize the opportunities that the era has offered” in a world that is “undergoing momentous changes of a kind not seen in a century.”
“Through courage and skill, we will overcome all major risks and challenges that may impede our path to national rejuvenation and resolutely safeguard our national sovereignty, security and development interests.”
Xi urged that “the Chinese people and the nation must stick together through good times and bad and rely on our strong unity to overcome all risks and challenges on the road ahead.”
He noted that a united people with a great spirit of patriotism has always been “an important instrument that has allowed the CPC to rally the people’s support and pool their strength” for all endeavors.
He also pointed out that both “a stable and united domestic environment” and “a peaceful and stable international environment” are required to achieve national rejuvenation. “Our people hope to successfully realize national development, but they also hope to see all peoples of the world leading happy and peaceful lives,” he said.
“On the journey ahead, China will always fly the flag of peace, development, cooperation and mutual benefit, strive to promote the building of a human community with a shared future, and endeavor to improve the global governance system,” Xi said.
In his speech, Xi also reiterated that the Taiwan question will be resolved as national rejuvenation becomes a reality. “This is determined by the general trend of Chinese history, but more importantly, it is the common will of all Chinese people.”
“National reunification by peaceful means best serves the interests of the Chinese nation as a whole, including our compatriots in Taiwan,” he said.
Xi called on compatriots on both sides of the Taiwan Straits to “stand on the right side of history and join hands to achieve China’s complete reunification and the rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.”
CMG: Continue to Support Taiwan Entertainers to Perform on the Chinese Mainland
The gala celebrating the National Day of China broadcast by China Media Group (CMG) has received a warm response at home and abroad. Many entertainers from Hong Kong, Macao, and Taiwan regions performed on stage with their mainland counterparts, presenting a high quality gala.
In response to the recent threats against actors and actresses by some media in Taiwan, the spokesperson for the Culture and Art Program Center of the China Media Group has replied as follows:
“At every major festival of China, the China Media Group will produce special programs and invite entertainer from Hong Kong, Macao, and Taiwan to join with those in the mainland to participate in the performances and share the glory of the festival.
Taiwan entertainers participating in the variety shows and other activities are well received by the audience.
In disregard of the facts, some media have frequently threatened, intimidated, and slandered Taiwan entertainers who have contacts with the mainland. We are firmly opposed to this. We reiterate that we welcome entertainers from Taiwan to participate in our programs.”
Latest Round of Talks Between China and U.S. Concludes in Switzerland
The latest round of talks between China and the U.S. concluded in Zurich on October 6. Chinese delegates are departing after talks with U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan.
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