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China’s first Mars rover starts exploring red planet

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(Last Updated On: May 22, 2021)

China’s first Mars rover, Zhurong, drove down from its landing platform and set its wheels on Martian soil at 10:40 (Beijing Time) on Saturday, according to the telemetry data from the China National Space Administration (CNSA).

Zhurong’s first successful drive made China the second country after the United States to land and operate a rover on Mars.

The six-wheeled solar-powered rover slowly trundled off a ramp on the lander to hit the red and sandy soil of Mars, starting its journey to explore the fourth planet from the sun.

China’s Mars probe Tianwen-1, consisting of an orbiter, a lander, and a rover, was launched on July 23, 2020. The lander carrying the rover touched down in the southern part of Utopia Planitia, a vast plain on the northern hemisphere of Mars, on May 15, eight days before the rover left the lander.

“The reason why we need eight days is that the rover needs to capture the clear images of the area where it will touch down. If the assessment came out to be no difficulties, risk-free and safe, we will decide which way to go for the guide rail on the lander, which can stretch to this direction or this direction,” said Zhang Yuhua, deputy chief commander of Tianwen-1 mission, with the Eighth Academy of China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation.

As planned, Zhurong will stay on Mars for 92 Earth days for explorations, during which the orbiter of Tianwen-1, with a design life of one Martian year (about 687 days on Earth), will relay communications from the rover to Earth. And after it completes the relay communications, the orbiter will continue its own scientific detection operations of Mars.

While on Mars, Zhurong will record the Martian landscape with high-resolution three-dimensional images, analyze the material composition of the planet’s surface, detect its sub-surface structure and magnetic field, search for traces of water ice and observe the surrounding meteorological environment.

“The real Mars-orbiting exploration starts only after the three-month relay communications completes. We hope we could have a comprehensive covering of Martian topography, landform and environment, and the exploratory data of the radar detecting the Martian subsurface during one Martian year. By doing so, our country will have our own abundant and first-hand data about Martian resources,” said Zhang.

Zhurong is named after the god of fire in ancient Chinese mythology. The name echoes with the Chinese name for the red planet, Huoxing (the planet of fire), while the name of the mission, Tianwen, means Questions to Heaven, the title of a poem by the ancient Chinese poet Qu Yuan (circa 340-278 BC).

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Four polio vaccinators killed, four wounded in Nangarhar

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(Last Updated On: June 15, 2021)

Four polio vaccinators were killed and four others wounded in four separate attacks by unknown gunmen in Nangarhar province on Tuesday morning, confirmed local officials.

Officials said one vaccinator was killed and another wounded at 7:30am in Chamtala area of Khoqyani district on Tuesday.

According to the officials one other vaccinator was killed and one wounded at 8:30 am in another attack in PD3 of Jalalabad city on Tuesday.

One volunteer vaccinator was killed and one wounded in a third attack in Khoqyani district of the province.

In the fourth attack one volunteer vaccinator was killed and one wounded in Sra-Road district of the province.

Attaullah Khoqyani, spokesman for Nangarhar governor confirmed that vaccinators were attacked in several areas but he did not provide details.

No one has claimed responsibility for the attacks so far.

This comes after at least three members of a polio vaccination team, all of them women, were shot dead by unknown gunmen in Nangarhar province in March, local officials said.

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NATO to provide provisional funding to help run Kabul airport

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(Last Updated On: June 14, 2021)

NATO has not yet decided on who would run the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul once foreign troops have withdrawn, the organization’s secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg said Monday night. 

Stoltenberg said however that Turkey would play a “key role” in running the airport and that NATO is committed to providing transitional funding for the key facility. 

This comes after Turkey offered to run and guard the airport after the withdrawal of troops. 

However, the Taliban issued a warning and said such a move would be a “mistake” and that any country doing so would be considered invaders. 

“The presence of foreign forces under whatever name or by whichever country in our homeland is unacceptable for the Afghan people and the Islamic Emirate (Taliban),” the group cautioned in a statement.

The Taliban insisted that the security of airports, foreign embassies, and diplomatic offices is the responsibility of Afghans, saying that “no one should hold out hope of keeping military or security presence” in Afghanistan.   

In a communique issued by the Heads of State and Government participating in the NATO Summit, it was stated that NATO will retain a Senior Civilian Representative’s Office in Kabul to continue diplomatic engagement and enhance its partnership with Afghanistan.

“Recognising its importance to an enduring diplomatic and international presence, as well as to Afghanistan’s connectivity with the world, NATO will provide transitional funding to ensure the continued functioning of Hamid Karzai International Airport,” the communique read.  

“We will also step up dialogue on Afghanistan with relevant international and regional partners. We continue to support the ongoing Afghan-owned and Afghan-led peace process, and call on all stakeholders to help Afghanistan foster a lasting inclusive political settlement that puts an end to violence; safeguards the human rights of Afghans, particularly women, children, and minorities; upholds the rule of law; and ensures that Afghanistan never again serves as a safe haven for terrorists.”

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Khalilzad in Kazakhstan to discuss Afghanistan peace process

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(Last Updated On: June 14, 2021)

US special peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad met with Kazakhstan President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev in Nur-Sultan on Sunday to discuss the current situation in Afghanistan.

Kazakhstan media reports stated the two discussed prospects for the development of the Kazakh-US relations in the context of ensuring security and stability in Afghanistan especially once foreign troops have withdrawn.

Reports stated Khalilzad and Tokayev also discussed the coordination of bilateral and multilateral efforts for the stabilization and socio-economic reconstruction of Afghanistan.

Tokayev said: “This year we are marking the 30th anniversary of our Independence. During this period, we managed to build relations of friendship and mutually beneficial cooperation.

“The United States is a strong partner of Kazakhstan. We are good partners in so many areas, including trade and economic cooperation,” he said.

Tokayev also said the Afghan issue was always a focal point in his talks with the leaders of Afghanistan, Russia, China, Central Asian states and international organizations.

Kazakh media reported that during the meeting, Khalilzad shared his assessment of the current situation in Afghanistan, and the vision of American diplomacy regarding the further development of the intra-Afghan peace process.

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