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A time-lapse of Martian weather in 2018. Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Malin Space Science Systems

China's latest mission to Mars, which includes a lander, rover and orbiter, launched to the Red Planet Thursday.

Why it matters: If the mission is successful, China will become only the second nation after the U.S. to operate a rover on the surface of Mars.

  • The mission is the second of three bound for Mars expected to launch this month.
  • The United Arab Emirates already launched its Hope orbiter and NASA is planning to launch its Perseverance rover on July 30.

Details: China's mission, called Tianwen-1, is designed to conduct extensive geological research and mapping of the Red Planet, according to an article written by people involved in the mission published in Nature Astronomy last week.

  • "Scientifically, Tianwen-1 is the most comprehensive mission to investigate the Martian morphology, geology, mineralogy, space environment, and soil and water-ice distribution," the article says.
  • The mission is carrying 13 scientific instruments in total, with seven on the orbiter and another six aboard the rover — all aimed at getting a complete picture of what's happening on the Red Planet today.

The big picture: For China, this mission is a point of national pride and a show of strength that would prove the country's significant investment in space has paid off in a major way.

  • The country's 2011 Mars mission launched with Russia didn't make it out of low-Earth orbit.

What's next: Tianwen-1 is expected to reach its orbit around Mars in February 2021, with science operations expected to start in April.

Go deeper

Miriam Kramer, author of Space
Oct 27, 2020 - Science

NASA astronaut Mike Hopkins on his return to space

Photo illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios. Photos: Anadolu Agency, Jim Watson/Getty Images

NASA astronaut Mike Hopkins is slated to head back to the International Space Station next month for his first flight to orbit since 2013.

Why it matters: Hopkins will command the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft that will take him and three other crewmembers — NASA's Shannon Walker and Victor Glover and Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi — to the station as part of the capsule's first crewed, non-test flight to orbit.

Senate confirms retired Gen. Lloyd Austin as defense secretary

Photo: Greg Nash-Pool/Getty Images

The Senate voted 93-2 on Friday to confirm retired Gen. Lloyd Austin as secretary of defense. Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) were the sole "no" votes.

Why it matters: Austin is the first Black American to lead the Pentagon and President Biden's second Cabinet nominee to be confirmed.

House will transmit article of impeachment to Senate on Monday, Schumer says

Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) announced that the House will deliver the article of impeachment against former President Trump for "incitement of insurrection" on Monday.

Why it matters: The Senate is required to begin the impeachment trial at 1pm the day after the article is transmitted.

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