According to the state news agency Xinhua, the Chinese rover stepped off its landing platform and began exploring the surface today, May 22, 2021. Thus, China became the second country to operate a rover on the Red Planet.
The July 2020 launch of the Tianwen-1 Mars probe with the Zhurong rover was a milestone in China’s space program. Tianwen-1 landed on the vast northern lava plain known as Utopia Planitia a week ago – in May 2021 – and a few days later transmitted its first photographs of the surface.
The Mars probe and rover are expected to spend about three months photographing, collecting geographic data, and collecting and analyzing rock samples.
Zhurong’s six-wheeled, solar-powered, 240kg engine is named after the Chinese mythical god of fire. Now China has sent astronauts into space, launched probes to the moon and landed a rover on Mars.
The United States and Russia are the only other countries to reach Mars, but only the first has used a rover on the surface. Several attempts by the United States, Russia and Europe to land rovers on Mars have failed in the past, the most recent in 2016, when the joint Russian-European spacecraft Schiaparelli crash landed.
The last successful arrival came in February, when US space agency NASA landed its Perseverance rover, which has been exploring the planet ever since. The American rover launched a small robotic helicopter to Mars, which was the first ever flight to another planet.
China has come a long way in the race to catch up with the United States and Russia, whose astronauts and cosmonauts have decades of experience in space exploration. It successfully launched the first module of its new space station last month, hoping it will be manned by 2022 and eventually send humans to the moon. Prior to that, part of the Chinese rocket Long March 5B disintegrated over the Indian Ocean as a result of an uncontrolled landing on Earth.