China looking to Mars as coronavirus pandemic spreads

It would be the country's first-ever trip to the Red Planet

As the coronavirus pandemic continues and ripple effects hit every part of the world, a team of researchers in China is looking toward Mars — and they want to take off in July.

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The launch is part of a long-planned mission to probe the Red Planet and would mark the country's first-ever trip. According to a report in Nature, the project will take on several cameras and a rover to study the planet's foreign surfaces.

And despite the more than 190,000 COVID-19 cases worldwide, including just under 81,000 in China, officials want to push forward with the mission.

“The launch is so important politically that they will make it happen,” Raymond Arvidson, a planetary geologist at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, said in the report.

The centenary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party lands in 2021, and Wang Chi, a space physicist and director-general of the National Space Science Center in Beijing, said a successful launch would be a “100-year anniversary gift.”

Researchers on the mission are taking steps to protect themselves, and Wang, who's in charge of the project’s scientific payloads, said the outbreak hasn’t yet caused delays.

To scale back physical contact between employees, the NSSC introduced a flexible work policy, allowing engineers and staffers to opt into morning- or afternoon-only shifts. That's in addition to other measures, like letting "basic scientists" work from home.

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While China presses on, other countries do, too. NASA is in the process of deploying a rover named Perseverance, and the United Arab Emirates will send a probe called Hope.

Two other international teams are planning Mars launches in July.

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Europe and Russia's space agencies were also preparing to explore Mars but announced recently that the projects would be delayed two years in part due to the pandemic.

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The private space market is worth around $325 billion, according to the Harvard Business Review, but as technology continues to advance, that number could blast off.

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