Atlas V rocket with the InSight Mars lander onboard before lift off. Photo: Reuters / Gene Blevins
Atlas V rocket with the InSight Mars lander onboard before lift off. Photo: Reuters / Gene Blevins

NASA launched its most sophisticated mission to Mars on Saturday. Forty-eight hours later, China’s main space agency, the Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation, or CASIC, unveiled a “meat sniffer.”

Perched on top of a powerful 19-story Atlas 5 rocket was the first robotic lander designed for exploring the red planet’s deep interior.

After touching down six months after takeoff, the solar-powered InSight lander will spend two years, or roughly one Martian year, skirting the outer limits of Mars.

Hitching a ride was a pair of miniature satellites called CubeSats, which will fly on their own trajectory in the first deep-space test of the technology.

They will serve as an experimental communications-relay network when Insight lands later this year.

Both CubeSats phoned home shortly after their release, indicating that their solar panels and communications antennae had deployed successfully.

“MarCO-A and B say ‘Polo!’” Andy Klesh, the chief engineer of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said. “It’s a sign that the little sats are alive and well.”

China Freshness Sniffer
China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation’s ‘Freshness Sniffers.’ Photo: Provided to Asia Times

Back on earth, CASIC announced that its supermarket mission had gone off without a hitch after the successful launch of the “freshness sniffer.”

The handheld device, developed by the space agency’s research labs, allows shoppers to gauge the freshness of meat or fish just by holding it next to an item.

As for the science, the “sniffer” is based on sensor and measurement technologies in space equipment.

“It can tell you whether the meat is fresh, or not so fresh and needs to be cooked well, or if it has already become spoiled,” Niu Ye, an engineer at CASIC, told China’s state-run Xinhua news agency. “You open the device and an application on your mobile phone, and then place the device very close to the meat for about 10 seconds.”

The “sniffer” is the first of its kind developed by domestic engineers, although the state-owned newspaper reported that there are similar products available outside China.

“We intend to mass-produce the device and promote it on the [home] market,” Liu said.

As Beijing is fond of saying, our techies are boldly going where no one has gone before … in China. Or, to paraphrase Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy in a famous scene from Star Trek with Captain James T. Kirk: “It’s meat, Jim … but not as we know it.”

– with additional reporting from Reuters