CHINA has launched a Mars rocket which fired the starting pistol in the race with the US to land humans on Red Planet.
The Tianwen-1 was launched on a Long March-5 carrier rocket from a launch site on Hainan Island.
It marked the second flight to Mars this week, after a United Arab Emirates orbiter blasted off on a rocket from Japan on Monday.
China’s tandem spacecraft — with both an orbiter and a rover — will take seven months to reach Mars, like the others.
If all goes well, Tianwen-1, or “quest for heavenly truth,” will look for underground water, if it’s present, as well as evidence of possible ancient life.
Livestreams showed a successful liftoff, with rockets blazing orange and the spacecraft heading upward across clear blue skies.
Hundreds of space enthusiasts cried out excitedly on a beach across the bay from the launch site.
This isn’t China’s first attempt at reaching the Red Planet.
In 2011, a Chinese orbiter accompanying a Russian mission was lost when the spacecraft failed to get out of Earth’s orbit after launching from Kazakhstan, eventually burning up in the atmosphere.
This time, China is going at it alone. It also is fast-tracking, launching an orbiter and rover on the same mission instead of stringing them out.
Chinas secretive space program has developed rapidly in recent decades.
Yang Liwei became the first Chinese astronaut in 2003, and last year, Change-4 became the first spacecraft from any country to land on the far side of the moon.
The mission will see both an orbiter and a rover launched[/caption]