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China lands spacecraft on Mars

State-run media says landing ‘spectacularly conquered’ a new milestone; it joins US Perseverance rover which landed in February.

High Asia Herald Report

China’s space programme took a major leap on Saturday (May 15) when an unmanned spacecraft, Zhurong rover, successfully landed on the surface of Mars, Chinese state news agency Xinhua reported, marking the country’s first landing on another planet and the second space-faring nation after the US to land on the red planet.

Teams will now prepare to roll the rover off its landing platform and onto the dusty Martian surface to begin a mission to search for evidence of water and hints of past life.

Also see: China launches unnamed Mars probe – video

The official Xinhua news agency said the lander had touched down on Saturday, citing the China National Space Administration.

China’s Tianwen-1 probe, consisting of an orbiter, a lander and a rover, was launched from southern China’s island province of Hainan in July, around the same time as a US mission.

It sent back its first picture of Mars in February. A photo released by the China National Space Administration showed geological features including the Schiaparelli crater and the Valles Marineris, a vast stretch of canyons on the Martian surface.

The state-run Global Times newspaper said Tianwen-1 had “spectacularly conquered a new major milestone” with the landing.

In this photo released by Xinhua News Agency, members at the Beijing Aerospace Control Center celebrate after China’s Tianwen-1 probe successfully landing on Mars. Photograph: Jin Liwang/AP

The lander carrying the rover, Zhurong, completed the treacherous descent through the Martian atmosphere using a parachute to navigate the “seven minutes of terror” as it is known, aiming for a vast northern lava plain known as the Utopia Planitia.

Its arrival makes China the first country to carry out an orbiting, landing and roving operation during its first mission to Mars – a feat unmatched by the only other two nations to reach the red planet, the US and Russia.

Zhurong, named after a Chinese mythical fire god, arrived a few months behind America’s latest probe to Mars – Perseverance – as the show of technological might between the two superpowers played out beyond the bounds of Earth.

Six-wheeled, solar-powered and roughly 240kg, the Chinese rover is on a quest to collect and analyse rock samples from Mars’ surface.

It is expected to spend around three months there.

The launch of China’s Tianwen-1 last July marked a major milestone in China’s space programme.

The spacecraft entered Mars’ orbit in February and after days of silence state media announced it had reached the “crucial touchdown stage” on Friday.

The complicated landing process has been called the “seven minutes of terror” because it happens faster than radio signals can reach Earth from Mars, meaning communications are limited.

The several US, Russian and European attempts to land rovers on Mars have failed in the past, most recently in 2016 with the crash-landing of the Schiaparelli joint Russian-European spacecraft.

The latest successful arrival came in February when US space agency Nasa landed its rover Perseverance, which has since been exploring the planet.

The US rover launched a small robotic helicopter on Mars which was the first ever powered flight on another planet.

The country has come a long way in its race to catch up with the US and Russia, whose astronauts and cosmonauts have decades of experience in space exploration.

China successfully launched the first module of its new space station last month with hopes of having it crewed by 2022 and eventually sending humans to the moon.

Last week a segment of the Chinese Long March 5B rocket disintegrated over the Indian Ocean in an uncontrolled landing back to Earth.

That drew criticism from the US and other nations for a breach of etiquette governing the return of space debris to Earth, with officials saying the remnants had the potential to endanger life and property.–The Guardian/National Geographics/Agencies


The High Asia Herald is a member of High Asia Media Group -- a window to High Asia and Central Asia

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