China’s Zhurong rover landed safely on Mars on May 15, making China only the third country to land a rover on the red planet successfully.
More impressively still, China is the first Mars-going nation to carry out an orbiting, landing, and rovering operation as its first mission.
Planetary scientist Roberto Orosei told Nature China is “doing in a single go what NASA took decades to do.” At the same time, astrophysicist Jonathon McDowell described China’s decision to include a rover in its maiden Mars outing as a “very gutsy move.”
Congratulations to CNSA’s #Tianwen1 team for the successful landing of China’s first Mars exploration rover, #Zhurong! 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. pic.twitter.com/KexElIu8OH
— Thomas Zurbuchen (@Dr_ThomasZ) May 15, 2021
Zhurong, named after the god of fire in Chinese mythology, separated from the Tianwen-1 orbiter and touched down close to the site of previous NASA missions on a vast plain called Utopia Planitia.
This Mars area had formed billions of years ago when a Martian meteorite smashed into the planet’s surface. As a result, the surrounding area is largely featureless, covered mostly in volcanic material.
Zhurong is not the first rover to explore this region. In 1976, NASA’s Viking 2 lander touched down further north within the Utopia Planitia basin, returning high-resolution images of the martian surface and analyzing soil samples.
The Viking 2 lander lacked the ability to investigate any further than its initial landing site. But the Zhurong rover should be well equipped to roam farther afield during its mission.