China probe delivers its first photo of Mars

It's a milestone for the country's space program.

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Jon Fingas
February 6, 2021 9:29 PM
BEIJING, Feb. 5, 2021 -- Photo released by the China National Space Administration CNSA shows the first image of Mars captured by Mars probe Tianwen-1 from a distance of 2.2 million km. China's Mars probe Tianwen-1 conducted its fourth orbital correction Friday night, according to the CNSA.
   The probe carried out the orbital correction at 8 p.m. Beijing time, aiming to ensure that the probe achieves a sound planned rendezvous with Mars.
   The CNSA also said the probe had captured the first image of Mars from a distance of 2.2 million km.
   The probe has traveled about 197 days in orbit, flying about 465 million km. It is currently 184 million km from Earth and 1.1 million km from Mars. All probe systems are in good working condition, the CNSA said. (Photo by Xinhua via Getty) (Xinhua/Xinhua via Getty Images)
Xinhua via Getty Images

China’s plans for interplanetary exploration just took a big stride forward. The Guardian reports that the country’s Tianwen-1 probe has returned its first photo of Mars, capturing a black-and-white snapshot from about 1.4 million miles away. It doesn’t compare to the more detailed pictures from other explorers (certainly not those on the ground), but that’s not really the point — this is proof China can send a spacecraft to Mars.

The probe should enter Mars orbit on February 10th, with its rover touching down at the Utopia impact basin in May.

The country tried sending a mission to Mars in 2011 with Russian help, but that failed at launch. Not that trips to the Red Planet have been easy for anyone. The ESA, Russia, the US and other countries and organizations have routinely struggled to make the journey.

A successful Tianwen-1 rover landing would clearly boost China’s pride as it embarks on other ambitious projects, including putting a new space station into orbit by 2022. It will effectively serve as a symbolic foil to NASA’s Perseverance mission and might help China justify further exploration beyond Earth.

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