A small remote-controlled Chinese rover, “Zhurong” touched down on Mars on Saturday, marking the first time China has safely landed on the red planet, according to the CCTV public television channel.
China thus becomes the second nation to land a vehicle on the planet, after the United States.
Landing on Mars is extremely complicated and many European, Soviet and American attempts to do so in the past have ended in failure.
In 2011, China had already tried to send a probe to Mars during a joint mission with Russia, but the attempt failed and Beijing decided to pursue the adventure on its own.
The Chinese launched their unmanned “Tianwen-1” mission from Earth in late July 2020, named after the probe sent earlier into space. It had three elements: an orbiter, a lander, which took Zhurong to the surface of Mars, and the rover.
CCTV confirmed on Saturday that the Tianwen-1 lander successfully reached the “pre-defined area” on Mars with the rover, and that a signal had been received from it on Earth. It landed in an area of the red planet known as “Utopia Planitia,” a vast plain in its northern hemisphere.
This was the first independent attempt to land a vehicle on Mars by China, which has set itself an ambitious goal: doing everything the United States has achieved in many Martian missions since the 1960s.
In February, the Chinese had already succeeded in placing the “Tianwen-1” probe in orbit around Mars and taking images of the red planet. Early on Saturday, it managed to deploy the lander, which enabled the rover to land on the planet’s surface.
Completing the three operations during an inaugural mission to Mars is a world first.
Weighing in at over 200 kg, “Zhurong” has four solar panels for its energy feed and is supposed to remain operational for three months. It is also equipped with cameras, a radar and lasers, which will allow it to study its surroundings and analyse the composition of Martian rocks.
Its name, selected through an online poll, is taken from the God of Fire in Chinese mythology, a symbolism justified by the planet’s name in Chinese, “huoxing,” which means “the fire planet.”