China Successfully Lands Probe on Mars

China has become the second country in history to have successfully landed a rover on Mars.

According to the state-run Xinhua news agency, the rover, Zhurong, (named after a God of Fire in Chinese mythology), landed on the red planet at the pre-selected area in Utopia Planita, a vast terrain in the northern hemisphere. The six-wheeled rover touched down using a combination of a parachute and a rocket platform which helped it make the daring descent.

Utopia Planitia is where Nasa landed its Viking-2 mission in 1976. The basin, more than 3,000km across, was formed by an impact early in Mars’ history, and is said to have once held an ocean there.

The successful touchdown of the rover marks a new milestone in planetary observation and space travel. Other countries that have attempted to land a probe on Mars have either lost contact with them during the mission or had them crash before or during the descent to the surface.

The solar-powered Zhurong rover weighs about 240 kilograms (529 pounds) and carries six scientific instruments. It will undertake a three-month mission to search for signs or previous evidence of ancient life on the surface of the red planet. 

Zhurong was carried to Mars on the Tianwen-1 orbiter. Tianwen-1 was launched by a Long March 5 rocket from the Wenchange space launch centre in Hainan on July 23 in 2020, and spent seven months on route to Mars before entering its orbit in February. The probe then spent a further three months observing the landing area before releasing the rover to the surface.

Chinese President Xi Jinping sent a congratulatory message to the team in a special message, saying: “You were brave enough for the challenge, pursued exellence, and placed our country in the advanced ranks of planetary exploration.”

The head of science at the US space agency NASA, also congratulated the team. 

“Together with the global science community, I look forward to the important contributions this mission will make to humanity’s understanding of the Red Planet.”

Tianwen-1 is just one of three international Mars missions that launched last summer. Others include NASA’s Perseverance mission, which landed on Mars in February, and the United Arab Emirates’ Hope Probe mission, which entered orbit around Mars, also in February.

Tianwen-1, name meaning “Quest for Heavenly Truth”, hopes to collate important information about the Martian soil, atmosphere, geological structure, environment, and to also search for signs of water.