China landed its first pair of robots on the surface of Mars on Friday, state-affiliated media confirmed on social media, becoming the second country to do so successfully after overcoming a daring, seven-minute landing sequence. The country’s Tianwen-1 spacecraft ejected the rover-lander bundle for a Martian touchdown at around 7PM ET, kicking off a mission to study the Red Planet’s climate and geology.
The mission marks China’s first independent trek to Mars, about 200 million miles away from Earth. Only NASA has successfully managed to land and operate rovers on the planet in the past. (The Soviet Union’s Mars 3 spacecraft landed on the planet in 1971 and communicated for about 20 seconds before unexpectedly going dark.) China’s mission, involving three spacecraft working together, is ambitiously complex for a first-timer — the first US mission, Viking 1 in 1976, only involved a lander deployed from its probe.
The landing took place at Utopia Planitia, a flat swath of Martian land and the same region where NASA’s Viking 2 lander touched down in 1976. After touching down, the lander will unfurl a ramp and deploy China’s Zhurong rover, a six-wheeled solar-powered robot named after the god of fire in ancient Chinese mythology. The rover carries a suite of onboard instruments, including two cameras, a Mars-Rover Subsurface Exploration Radar, Mars Magnetic Field Detector, and Mars Meteorology Monitor.
The Tianwen-1 spacecraft launched from the Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site in China’s Hainan province on July 23rd last year, setting off on a seven-month trek to the Red Planet. The spacecraft trio “has functioned normally” since it entered Mars orbit in February, the China National Space Administration (CNSA) said in a statement Friday morning. It collected a “huge amount” of scientific data and snapped photos of Mars while in its orbit…Read more>>