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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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IEA delegation due in Norway for humanitarian talks

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(Last Updated On: January 21, 2022)

Representatives of Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA) will arrive in Norway on Sunday for three days of talks on how to alleviate a humanitarian crisis, the Norwegian foreign ministry said on Friday, Reuters reported.

“These meetings do not represent a legitimisation or recognition of the Taliban [IEA]. But we must talk to the de facto authorities in the country,” Norwegian Foreign Minister Anniken Huitfeldt said in a statement.

“We cannot allow the political situation to lead to an even worse humanitarian disaster,” she said.

Millions of Afghans have been plunged deeper into poverty since last year’s IEA takeover, which resulted in disruption to aid programmes and deteriorating food security, Reuters reported.

The IEA representatives will meet Norwegian authorities as well as diplomats from several other countries from Jan. 23 to Jan. 25.

“Meetings will also take place between the Taliban [IEA] delegation and other Afghans with backgrounds from a range of fields. These include women leaders, journalists, and individuals working to safeguard human rights and address humanitarian, economic, social and political issues,” Norway said.

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IEA says EU reopens embassy in Afghanistan

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(Last Updated On: January 21, 2022)

Foreign Ministry of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA) on Thursday, announced that European Union officially reopened its diplomatic office in Kabul.

Spokesman of the Ministry Abdul Qahar Balkhi on the Twitter post said that the EU’s diplomatic office has officially resumed its operations in Afghanistan.

“Following consecutive meetings and reaching an understanding with EU representatives, the European Union officially opened its embassy with a permanent presence in Kabul and practically commenced operations.” Balkhi tweeted.

Meanwhile, Abdul Qahar Balkhi said that the EU announced 268 million euro additional assistance apart from the 220 million euro humanitarian aid to Afghanistan.

He added that a portion of the money will be used for teachers and their salaries which he welcomed.

The reopening of the embassy comes as the IEA is yet to be recognized by any country but a number of countries have started consular services in the country.

This comes after Afghanistan’s caretaker government on Wednesday called on the international community to formally recognize the IEA administration which is governing the country after toppling the U.S.-installed government last year.

Mullah Hassan Akhund, acting prime minister of the caretaker government, made the statement at an economic conference in Kabul, which convened IEA officials, some countries’ representatives and UN envoys.

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Turkey, Qatar reached preliminary deal on Kabul airport security

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(Last Updated On: January 21, 2022)

Turkey and Qatar have reached agreement on ensuring security at Kabul’s main airport should they be awarded the mission amid ongoing talks with the Islamic Emirate (IE) government, Turkish diplomatic sources said on Thursday, Reuters reported.

Kabul’s international airport is landlocked Afghanistan’s main air link to the world. Following the August takeover of Afghanistan by the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA), Turkey has said it would be open to operating it with Qatar but only if its security demands are met.

Reuters has reported that the United Arab Emirates also held talks with the Taliban to keep the airport operational.

The sources told reporters on Thursday that Ankara and Doha had agreed on a security framework for the airport mission, but added talks continued on other aspects such as financing.

“It is expected for the Taliban [Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan] to ensure security outside, and for whoever runs the airport to ensure it inside,” one of the sources said. “The process is continuing constructively,” the person said on condition of anonymity.

They added that a delegation of Turkish and Qatari officials were holding talks on the issue in Kabul this week, Reuters reported.

Qatar’s state news agency said the IEA government will be in Doha next week to complete discussions with Qatar and Turkey over the operation and management of the airport.

It added that delegations from Qatar and Turkey have held two days of “intense negotiations” in Kabul this week over control of the airport.

Qatar – which helped run the airport along with Turkey after playing a major role in evacuation efforts following the chaotic U.S. withdrawal in August – say that Ankara, Doha, and the IEA have agreed that discussions are going to be completed next week.

Qatar’s role at the Kabul airport has ensured that flights have operated between Doha and Kabul since September, allowing Qatar to become a hub for countries to maintain links to Afghanistan and to meet the IEA government. The United States, United Kingdom, Canada and several other countries have moved their Afghanistan embassies to Qatar, Reuters reported.

On Wednesday, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey was sending 700 tonnes of emergency aid and supplies to Afghanistan, without providing a date.

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