China’s first Mars rover has started its exploration on the red planet, according to the country’s national space administration. The Zhurong rover touched Martian soil on Saturday at 10.40 am (Beijing time), a week after it landed on the red planet.
China is the second country after the US to drive a rover on Mars. The former Soviet Union had landed a rover on Mars in 1971, but it lost communication in seconds.
The solar-powered rover is expected to roam Mars for 90 days to search for evidence of life on the planet’s surface and atmosphere.
Named after the Chinese god of fire, the Zhurong rover weighs approximately 240 kilograms (529 pounds). It has six wheels and four solar panels and is capable of moving on the surface of Mars at a speeds of up to 200 meters (656 feet) per hour. Zhurong is equipped with six scientific instruments, including a high-resolution topography camera.
The rover was transported to Mars on the Tianwen-1 orbiter, which took off from the Chinese island of Hainan in July last year. It was launched by the powerful Long March 5 rocket.
After over six months in transit, it reached the Red Planet’s orbit in February.
China’s ambitious space plans include launching an orbital station on Mars and sending a human on the moon. In 2019, the Asian country landed a space probe on the far side of the moon, becoming the first country to do so.
The US currently has a rover and a helicopter on Mars. NASA, the US space agency, expects the Perseverance rover to collect its first sample in July.
am/aw (AFP, Reuters, AP)