JUST four days after the United Arab Emirates sent its first spaceship on its way to Mars, the Chinese launch one in hot pursuit.
The take-off from Hainan Island was livestreamed as the US prepares to launch its own mission to the Red Planet from Cape Canaveral in Florida next week.
All three craft are expected to take seven months to reach Mars.
If all goes well, China’s Tianwen-1 — or ‘Quest for heavenly truth’ — will look for underground water, as well as evidence of possible ancient life. Hundreds of people watched from a beach as the rocket carrying the rover took off across the bay.
Launch commander Zhang Xueyu announced to cheers in the control room that it was ‘flying normally’ about 45 minutes later.
‘The Mars rover has accurately entered the scheduled orbit,’ he told state broadcaster CCTV.
The UAE’s rocket blasted off from Japan on Monday and the US hopes to launch Perseverance, its most sophisticated Mars rover yet, on Thursday.
It is not China’s first attempt at Mars. In 2011, a rocket accompanying a Russian mission from Kazakhstan burned up in the atmosphere.
Landing a spacecraft on Mars is notorious difficult — only previously achieved by the US.
‘At no other time in our history have we seen anything like what is unfolding with these three unique missions to Mars,’ said the Space Foundation’s Thomas Zelibor.