China and UAE Send Their First Spacecraft to Mars

    10 February 2021

    Two countries sent their first spacecraft to Mars this week – China and the United Arab Emirates.

    A Chinese spacecraft went into orbit around Mars on Wednesday. It followed a United Arab Emirates spacecraft that successfully entered orbit on Tuesday.


    Both countries celebrated successfully reaching Martian orbit. "Entering orbit has been successful...making it our country's first artificial Mars satellite," the Chinese space agency announced. China's Tianwen-1 spacecraft spent seven months on the trip to Mars and traveled nearly 475 million kilometers. Tianwen, the name of an ancient poem, means "Quest for Heavenly Truth."

    The UAE's spacecraft is called Amal. Amal is the Arabic word for Hope. Messages on the Hope Mars Mission's Twitter page announced the news in Arabic and English on Tuesday. "204 days and more than 480 million kms later, the #HopeProbe is now in the Capture Orbit of #Mars," one post said.

    People react as they watch screens displaying information of the Hope Probe entering the orbit of Mars, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, February 9, 2021. (REUTERS/Christopher Pike)
    People react as they watch screens displaying information of the Hope Probe entering the orbit of Mars, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, February 9, 2021. (REUTERS/Christopher Pike)

    Quick progress

    The trips to Mars come at a time when both countries have made quick progress in their space programs. China's secretive, military-linked space program brought moon rocks back to Earth in December. That is the first time a country has returned moon rocks back to Earth since the 1970s. China was also the first country to successfully land a spacecraft on the little-explored far side of the moon in 2019.

    The UAE first announced its planned mission in 2014 and launched a National Space Program in 2017 to develop local experts. In 2019, Hazza al-Mansouri became the first Emirati in space when he flew to the International Space Station.

    Both countries succeeded at something that has been difficult to do in the past. About 60 percent of all Mars missions have ended in failure, crashing, burning up or failing to reach orbit.

    China's spacecraft will send a vehicle, called a rover, to land on the Martian surface. The goal is to search for signs of life in the area called Utopia Planitia, where the U.S. Viking 2 lander touched down in 1976.

    The UAE's spacecraft will remain in a very high Martian orbit. From that orbit, the spacecraft will be able to observe the Martian atmosphere at all times.

    Along with Tianwen-1, Amal will join six other spacecraft already operating around Mars. Three are from the United States, two are European and one is from India.

    US rover to come soon

    A NASA rover called Perseverance is aiming for a February 18 landing on Mars. It, too, will search for signs of ancient life, collecting rocks that will be returned to Earth in about 10 years.

    All three of the latest missions were launched in July to take advantage of the closer distance between Earth and Mars at that time. Such an event happens only once every two years.

    The U.S. first successfully landed on Mars with two NASA Viking missions in the 1970s. An American lander and rover are in operation there today.

    I'm John Russell.

    John Russell adapted this story from Reuters and AP reports. Mario Ritter, Jr. was the editor.


    Words in This Story

    artificial – adj. not natural or real : made, produced, or done to seem like something natural

    mission – n. a flight by an aircraft or spacecraft to perform a specific task

    rover – n. a vehicle used for exploring the surface of a moon, planet, etc.

    advantage – n. something (such as a good position or condition) that helps to make someone or something better or more likely to succeed