Illustration by Mike McQuade On July 23, at precisely 12:41 P.M. Beijing time, with the planets aligned in favorable ways, China launched its ambitious Mars probe mission from the Wenchang Space Launch Center on Hainan Island, a blast-off fueled by the country’s biggest “Long March” rocket, the CZ5. The unmanned spacecraft, dubbed Tianwen-1 — or “quest for heavenly truth” — is a multi-functional vessel that will make a six-month-long journey to Mars of more than 300 million miles. When it finally reaches the red planet, a coordinated system of heat shields, parachutes and rockets will deploy from an orbiter and enter the ultra-thin atmosphere of Mars. A white bell-shaped capsule will then help a lander, the size of a small car, touch down softly on its crusty, red surface. A ramp will unfurl, and a 530-pound rover will roll down to the rocky surface below. Outfitted with high-resolution cameras and sensors, the solar-powered rover will then explore the terrain of the planet that most resemblSubscribe or login to read the rest. Subscribers get full access to: Exclusive longform investigative journalism, Q&As, news and analysis, and data on Chinese business elites and corporations. We publish China scoops you won't find anywhere else. A weekly curated reading list on China from David Barboza, Pulitzer Prize-winning former Shanghai correspondent for The New York Times. A daily roundup of China finance, business and economics headlines. We offer discounts for groups, institutions and students. Go to our Subscriptions page for details.