by Alex Fox/Smithsonianmag.com
China’s Tianwen-1 spacecraft successfully initiated its orbit around Mars, reports Zhao Lei for state-run media outlet China Daily. Tianwen-1 entered Mars orbit February 10 just before 8:00 p.m. Beijing time, reports Smriti Mallapaty for Nature.
The orbiter is carrying a lander and a rover that will attempt to touch down on the planet’s surface in roughly three months with the goal of studying Martian geology, soil and searching for signs of water, according to Nature. This achievement marks the first time China has traveled to another planet and its successful completion is a key step on the way to China’s ultimate goal of landing on the Red Planet for the first time.
Tianwen-1, or “Questions to Heaven,” is the second of three major missions to Mars set to reach their far-flung destination this month, reports Jonathan Amos of BBC News. The United Arab Emirates’ Hope space probe was the first to arrive, entering its uniquely distant orbit around Mars Tuesday. Meanwhile, the United States’ Perseverance mission is expected to arrive on February 18. The three missions, which launched last July, are taking advantage of a particularly close pass between Earth and its neighbor in the solar system. (For full coverage, check Smithsonian’s Exploring Mars page.)