China launched a rover to Mars on Thursday, a journey coinciding with a similar US mission as the powers take their rivalry into deep space.

The two countries are taking advantage of a period when Earth and Mars are favourably aligned for a short journey, with the US spacecraft due to lift off on July 30.

The Chinese mission is named Tianwen-1 (“Questions to Heaven”)—a nod to a classical poem that has verses about the cosmos.

Engineers and other employees cheered at the launch site on the southern island of Hainan as it lifted off into blue sky aboard a Long March 5—China’s biggest space rocket.

“We carry out this first Mars exploration mission to peacefully use the universe and to explore its mysteries. It’s for this purpose. It’s not to launch a competition with any other country,”

Liu Tongjie

Liu Tongjie, spokesman for China’s first Mars exploration mission, told reporters.The mission includes a Mars orbiter, a lander and a rover that will study the planet’s soil.The five-tonne Tianwen-1 will arrive in the Red Planet’s orbit in February 2021 after a seven-month, 55 million-kilometre (34 million-mile) voyage, and deploy the rover to Mars three months later in May.


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