China’s Zhurong Mars Rover Takes a Drive on the Red Planet

China’s Zhurong Mars rover
Credit: Chinese National Space Administration

China has become the first country after the United States to successfully land a rover on Mars. On May 14, 2021, China’s Zhurong rover rolled from its platform onto the red sand, with this historical moment commemorated by a photo taken by the Chinese National Space Administration (CNSA). The agency subsequently shared a photo taken by the rover after the first few feet of its long journey inside the Utopia Planitia.

China joins US as only nations to land vehicles on Mars

The rover has been designed to explore the large plains in search of subterranean ice by means of various scientific instruments, as well as a radar. Its secondary goals are to study the surface rocks and the planets thin atmosphere, perhaps also signs of life. It is solar powered and is expected to last for at least 90 sols (or Martian days), which translates to 92 Earth days or three months. Its real operational time will depend on the amount of dust and grime that builds up on the panels over time, as well as countless other factors. For example the famed Spirit rover had a similar mission duration, but lasted for over 5 years before finally getting stuck in the sand.

Studying Martian topography, landform and environment

Unlike with NASA, the CNSA have been a lot less open about the project, sharing information only several days after procedures were confirmed to have succeeded, including the first images from the surface of Mars. However, deputy chief commander Zhang Yuhua recently said that.

“We hope we can get a comprehensive covering of Martian topography, landform and environment, and the exploratory data of the radar detecting the Martian subsurface during one Martian year,” Adding that “By doing so, our country will have our own abundant and first-hand data about Martian resources.”

The rover weighs 240 kg and drives around on six wheels. It is part of a larger explorer that consists out of an orbiter and a lander. The rover is named after a Chinese fire god. It scouts the same area where the 1976 Viking-2 mission was sent to and hopefully will be joined by NASA’s Rosalind Franklin rover next year.

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