BEIJING – A Chinese remote-controlled motorized rover descended the ramp of a landing capsule on Saturday and onto the surface of the Red Planet, making China the first country to orbit, land and deploy a ground vehicle on its inaugural mission to March.
Zhurong, named after a mythical Chinese god of fire, descended to the surface of Mars at 10:40 a.m. Beijing time (10:40 p.m. ET), according to an article posted on the rover’s official account on Chinese social media. .
China joined the United States this month as the only country to deploy ground vehicles to Mars. The former Soviet Union landed a craft in 1971, but lost communication seconds later.
The 240 kg Zhurong rover, equipped with six scientific instruments, including a high-resolution topographic camera, will study the soil and atmosphere on the planet’s surface.
Powered by solar energy, Zhurong will also search for signs of ancient life, including any groundwater and ice, using ground-penetrating radar during his 90-day exploration of the Martian surface.
China’s unequipped Tianwen-1 spacecraft took off from southern China’s Hainan Island in July last year. After more than six months of transit, Tianwen-1 reached the Red Planet in February, where it has been in orbit ever since.
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On May 15, the landing capsule carrying the rover separated from Tianwen-1 and landed on a vast plain known as Utopia Planitia.
The first images taken by the rover were released on Wednesday by the Chinese space agency.
Tianwen-1 was one of three probes that reached Mars in February.
The American rover Perseverance landed on February 18 in a huge depression called Jezero Crater, more than 2,000 km from Utopia Planitia.
Hope – the third spacecraft to arrive in February – is not designed to land. Launched by the United Arab Emirates, it is in orbit above Mars, collecting data on its weather and atmosphere.
Perseverance and Zhurong are among three robotic robots operating on Mars. The third is NASA’s Curiosity, which landed in 2012.
NASA’s InSight, which arrived on the planet’s surface in 2018 to study its interior, is a stationary module.