China is celebrating the successful test of a new spacecraft that the country hopes will eventually land on Mars.
The Asian superpower invited observers to the test – which showed the craft hovering, avoiding obstacles and decelerating.
Testing was carried out at a special site outside Bejing that tries to simulate conditions of the Red Planet.
China says it plans to launch a lander and rover to Mars next year to explore parts of the planet in detail. The country’s burgeoning space program achieved a lunar milestone earlier this year by landing a probe on the mysterious far side of the moon.
It has developed rapidly, especially since it conducted its first crewed mission in 2003 and has sought cooperation with space agencies from Europe and elsewhere.
The U.S., however, has banned most space co-operation with China out of national security concerns, keeping China from participating in the International Space Station.
Despite that, China’s ambitions continue to grow as it seeks to rival the U.S., Russia and Europe in space and cement its position as a regional and global power. It is gradually constructing its own larger, more permanent space station in which it has invited foreign participation.
The lander on Thursday successfully avoided ground obstacles during a simulated low-gravity descent, according to the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation, the Chinese space program’s main contractor.
The refrigerator-sized craft was lowered gently on 36 cables through the air for about a minute and used onboard jets spraying rust-colored fumes to alter its downward course.
‘After the probe is launched, it will take about seven months to reach Mars, and the final procedure of landing will only last about seven minutes, which is the most difficult and the most risky part of the whole mission,’ said the Mars mission’s chief designer, Zhang Rongqiao, standing before the 140-meter-(460-foot-) tall testing facility.
Guests at Thursday’s event came from 19 countries and included the ambassadors of Brazil, France and Italy.
‘This event is the first public appearance of China’s Mars exploration mission, also an important measure for China to pragmatically carry out space international exchanges and cooperation,’ the China National Space Administration said in a news release.
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