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China’s Mars mission blasts off

SAMUEL McNEIL and ANIRUDDHA GHOSAL, July 26, 2020 9:00AM AP

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China’s Long March-5 rocket blasts off from the Wenchang Space Launch Centre on the Tianwen-1 mission to Mars. Picture: Noel Celis/AFP media_cameraChina’s Long March-5 rocket blasts off from the Wenchang Space Launch Centre on the Tianwen-1 mission to Mars. Picture: Noel Celis/AFP

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China has launched its Mars mission in a bold* attempt to join the US in successfully landing a spacecraft on the red planet.

Engines blazing orange, a Long March-5 rocket took off under clear skies from Hainan Island, south of China’s mainland, on July 23, as space enthusiasts* gathered on a beach across the bay from the launch site.

media_cameraPeople watched the launch from a beach across the bay. Picture: AFP

Launch commander Zhang Xueyu announced to cheers in the control room that the rocket was flying normally about 45 minutes later.

“The Mars rover has accurately* entered the scheduled orbit,” he said in brief remarks shown live on state broadcaster CCTV.

China’s space agency said that the rocket carried the probe for 36 minutes before successfully placing it on the looping path that will take it beyond Earth’s orbit and eventually into Mars’ more distant orbit around the sun.

Liu Tongjie, spokesman for the mission, said in a press briefing that the launch was a “key step of China marching towards farther deep space.”

media_cameraThe Long March-5 rocket carried the probe for 36 minutes before placing it on the path out of Earth’s orbit. Picture: Noel Celis/AFP

He said that China’s aim wasn’t to compete with other countries, but to peacefully explore the universe.

China’s Mars mission was the second launched last week, after a United Arab Emirates orbiter blasted off on a rocket from Japan on July 20.

And the US is aiming to launch Perseverance, its most sophisticated* Mars rover ever, from Cape Canaveral, Florida, this week.

“It’s amazing that another nation has launched the case for Mars,” said Katarina Miljkovic, a planetary scientist at Curtin University in Australia.

“It’s more like this marathon of space that we all want to be running.”

media_cameraThe United Arab Emirates’ Hope Probe launched on a Japanese rocket on July 20. Picture: AFP
media_cameraAn illustration of the NASA Mars rover Perseverance exploring the red planet. Picture: NASA/AFP

Like the other Mars missions, China’s tandem* spacecraft — with both an orbiter and a rover — will take seven months to reach the red planet.

If all goes well, Tianwen-1, or “quest for heavenly truth,” will look for underground water and signs of possible ancient life.

Landing on Mars is very difficult. Only the US has successfully landed a spacecraft on Martian soil, doing it eight times since 1976.

China’s mission plans to slip into orbit around Mars in February and look for a landing site.

A landing would then be attempted in April or May and if all goes well, the 240kg golf cart-sized, solar-powered rover is expected to operate for about three months, and the orbiter for two years.

NASA lands on Mars

GLOSSARY

  • bold: confident and courageous
  • enthusiasts: fans
  • accurately: correctly
  • sophisticated: very complex
  • tandem: for two

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QUICK QUIZ

  1. What type of rocket did China launch?
  2. Which other country launched a Mars mission last week?
  3. What is the name of the US Mars rover?
  4. What will the Chinese rover look for?
  5. How long will the missions to reach Mars?

LISTEN TO THIS STORY

CLASSROOM ACTIVITIES
1. Remembering the details
Work with a partner for this activity. Carefully read the news story and then each write a 5 question “true or false” quiz about China’s mission to Mars. Swap quizzes with your partner and see if you can answer each other’s questions correctly without referring back to the article, to show that you have remembered the details. Let your partner know how many of your questions they got right.

Time: allow 25 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English; Science

2. Extension
Work with your partner again. Race to see who can write down the most dot point facts about Mars in 10 minutes. You may use any reliable information sources you can find to complete this task.

Time: allow 10 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English; Science

VCOP ACTIVITY
I Spy Nouns
Nouns are places, names (of people and objects), and time (months or days of the week).

How many nouns can you find in the article?

Can you sort them into places, names and time?

Pick three nouns and add an adjective (describing word) to the nouns.

HAVE YOUR SAY: What do you think the rovers will find on Mars?
No one-word answers. Use full sentences to explain your thinking. No comments will be published until approved by editors.

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