China makes history with Mars rover landing

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China successfully landed its six-wheeled space rover on Mars over the weekend, becoming the first nation to to carry out an orbiting, landing and roving operation during its first mission to the Red Planet.

The Zhurong robot landed on the vast Utopia Planitia plain on Saturday, which is the largest recognised impact basin on Mars.

The rover deployed a parachute and back-firing rockets to make the fiery descent and was protected by a heat shield capsule as it touched down.

A Long March-5 rocket, carrying an orbiter, lander and rover as part of the Tianwen-1 mission to Mars, lifts off from the Wenchang Space Launch Centre in southern China’s Hainan Province in 2020. AFP

China has now become only the second nation to successfully land a spacecraft on Mars, behind the US. The Soviet Union also touched down on Mars in 1971 but its mission failed soon after when the craft stopped transmitting information.

Given the difficult nature of the task, this latest achievement has been dubbed outstanding by Chinese President Xi Jinping, who congratulated the team behind Tianwen-1, China’s first independent interplanetary mission.

The China National Space Administration (CNSA) has not yet officially confirmed the successful landing, but it was announced on social media by the state-run China Global Television Network.

The rover entered Mars’ orbit in February after launching on a Long March 5 rocket from Earth in July last year.

Since landing, the Zhurong rover, named after a god of fire in Chinese mythology, has taken high resolution pictures of the surrounding area and has been surveying for a safe spot to detach from the lander.

Engineers aim to pick an area that is devoid of large craters and boulders.

Once a spot has been determined, the rover will drive onto the surface via a ramp and will spend about three months on the Red Planet.

The aim of the mission is to study the composition of the Martian surface, including soil and rock formation, and look for signs of water ice.

A life size model of the Chinese Mars rover, Zhurong, named after the Chinese god of fire. AP
A life size model of the Chinese Mars rover, Zhurong, named after the Chinese god of fire. AP

In February, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, congratulated China on its Tianwen-1 spacecraft reaching Mars.

The orbiter-rover entered Mars’ orbit less than 24 hours after the UAE made history by becoming the fifth space agency to reach the Red Planet with its Hope Probe.

The National

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