China has joined the search for signs of life on the red planet by launching its own Mars rover into space.
Tianwen-1, which means “quest for heavenly truth”, took off successfully from Hainan Island off the south coast of China on Wednesday, according to state media, with hundreds of onlookers watching from a nearby beach.
It is the second country to launch a rocket to Mars this week after a United Arab Emirates spacecraft began its journey there on Monday from Japan.
The US is also set to launch a rocket to Mars from Florida’s Cape Canaveral next week.
Tianwen-1 will take seven months to reach the red planet and plans to search for underground water and evidence of possible ancient life forms.
The tandem spacecraft – with both an orbiter and a rover – is expected to enter Mars’ orbit in February and is aiming for a landing site on Utopia Planitia.
NASA detected possible signs of ice at the site, according to an article in Nature Astronomy by mission chief engineer Wan Weixing, who died in May after battling cancer.