China spacecraft enters Mars orbit, 2nd in 2 days after UAE

A Chinese spacecraft entered Mars orbit on Wednesday on a mission to land a rover and collect data on underground water and possible signs of ancient life, state media said.

“China’s probe Tianwen-1 successfully entered the orbit around Mars on Wednesday after a nearly seven-month voyage from Earth,” the Xinhua News Agency said in a brief report.

The orbiter-rover combo became the second spacecraft in two days to reach the red planet. An orbiter from the United Arab Emirates led the way on Tuesday.

Next week, the U.S.Will try to land its Perseverance rover on the Martian surface. Only the U.S. Has successfully touched down on Mars — eight times beginning with two Viking missions. A lander and rover are in operation today.

All three Mars missions launched last July to take advantage of the planet’s close alignment with Earth that occurs only every two years.

The Chinese mission is its most ambitious yet. If all goes as planned, the rover would separate from the spacecraft in a few months and attempt to touch down. If all goes as planned, China would become only the second nation to do so successfully.

Tianwen, the title of an ancient poem, means “Quest for Heavenly Truth.” Landing a spacecraft on Martian soil is notoriously difficult, and China’s attempt will involve a parachute, back-firing rockets and airbags. Its proposed landing site is inside the massive, rock-strewn, Utopia Planitia, where the U.S. Viking 2 lander touched down in 1976.