China has launched an unmanned probe to Mars in its first independent mission to visit another planet, a bid for global leadership in space and display of its technological prowess and ambition.
At 12.41pm local time on Thursday, China’s largest carrier rocket, the Long March 5 Y-4, blasted off with the probe from Wenchang Space Launch Centre on the southern island province of Hainan.
The probe is expected to reach Mars in February where it will attempt to deploy a rover to explore the planet for 90 days.
President Xi Jinping has identified space exploration as a pillar of the country’s development in the coming years.
If successful, the latest mission – Tianwen-1, or “Questions to Heaven”, a Chinese poem penned two millennia ago – will make China the first country to orbit, land and deploy a rover in its inaugural mission.
Eight spacecraft – American, European and Indian – are currently either orbiting Mars or on its surface with other missions underway or planned.