China has landed on Mars

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China has landed its first pair of robots on the surface of Mars. It has become the second country to do so and kicking off a mission to study the Red Planet’s climate and geology. The mission marks China’s first independent trek to Mars, about 200 million miles away from Earth. Only NASA has successfully managed to land and operate rovers on the planet in the past. (The Soviet Union’s Mars 3 spacecraft landed on the planet in 1971 and communicated for about 20 seconds before unexpectedly going dark.) China’s mission, involving three spacecraft working together, is ambitiously complex for a first-timer — the first US mission, Viking 1 in 1976, only involved a lander deployed from its probe. Tianwen-1 is the name of the overall Mars mission, named after the long poem “Tianwen,” which means “Questions to Heaven.” It marks the latest in a quick succession of advances in space exploration for China.