Both China and the U.S. are planning to launch uncrewed missions to the Red Planet next year.
Dropping the Lander
China's Mars lander just successfully completed its first public test: a spectacular drop from 230 feet onto a mountainous landscape north of Beijing. The lander hovered at first before slowly descending safely to the ground below.
The stunt tested one of the most difficult parts of sending a spacecraft to the Red Planet: making a soft landing while avoiding obstacles. It's a feat that only the United States has achieved so far.
"[The simulation] is a critical milestone for the development of the Mars probe," Wu Yanhua, vice administrator of the China National Space Administration, told reporters, as quoted by CNN.
Both China and the U.S. are planning to launch uncrewed exploration missions to Mars next year. NASA has been working hard on completing its Mars 2020 rover, which will hopefully collect rock samples and bring them back to Earth in 2021.
The test is yet another sign that China is a force to be reckoned with when it comes to space exploration. Last winter, the country successfully landed a rover on the far side of the Moon, becoming the first to sprout plants on the lunar surface as well.
China is also planning for a crewed mission to the Moon in the 2030s. The China Academy of Space Technology recently showed off its next-generation spacecraft that could one day take Chinese astronauts to the Moon, thereby becoming only the second country after the U.S. to do so.
More on China's space exploration efforts: China Reveals Spacecraft Built to Ferry Astronauts to the Moon