China completes historic landing on Mars
A Long March-5 rocket, carrying an orbiter, lander and rover as part of the Tianwen-1 mission to Mars, takes off from the Wenchang Space Launch Center in southern China’s Hainan Province, 23 July 2020.
NOEL CELIS | AFP | Getty Images
An unequipped Chinese spacecraft successfully landed on the surface of Mars on Saturday, the state-run Xinhua news agency reported, making China the second space country after the United States to land on the Red Planet.
The Tianwen-1 spacecraft landed at a site in a vast plain known as Utopia Planitia, “leaving a Chinese footprint on Mars for the first time,” Xinhua said.
Chinese President Xi Jinping sent a congratulatory message to everyone involved in the mission.
“You have been brave enough to rise to the challenge, have strived for excellence and placed our country in the advanced ranks of planetary exploration,” he said. “Your exceptional achievement will forever be etched in the memory of the homeland and the people.”
The spacecraft left its parked orbit around 5:00 p.m. GMT on Friday (1:00 a.m. Beijing time Saturday). The landing module separated from the orbiter three hours later and entered the Martian atmosphere, the official China Space News reported.
He said the landing process consisted of “nine minutes of terror” as the module slowed down and then slowly descended.
The official landing time was 2318 GMT (0718 Beijing time), Xinhua said, citing China’s National Space Administration. The rover took more than 17 minutes to unfold its solar panels and antenna and send signals to ground controllers more than 320 million kilometers away.
The rover, named Zhurong, will now inspect the landing site before leaving its platform to perform inspections. Named after a mythical Chinese god of fire, Zhurong has six scientific instruments, including a high-resolution topographic camera.
He will study the soil and the surface atmosphere of the planet. Zhurong will also look for signs of ancient life, including any groundwater and ice, using ground-penetrating radar.
Tianwen-1, or “Questions to Heaven,” after a Chinese poem written two millennia ago, is China’s first independent mission to Mars. A probe co-launched with Russia in 2011 failed to leave Earth orbit.
The five-ton spacecraft took off from southern China’s Hainan Island in July last year, launched by the powerful Long March 5 rocket.
After more than six months of transit, Tianwen-1 reached the Red Planet in February, where it has been in orbit ever since.
If Zhurong is successfully deployed, China would be the first country to orbit, land and release a rover in its inaugural mission to Mars.
Tianwen-1 was one of three to reach Mars in February, the American rover Perseverance having successfully landed on February 18 in a huge depression called the Jezero Crater, more than 2,000 km from Utopia Planitia.
Hope – the third spacecraft to arrive on Mars in February this year – is not designed to land. Launched by the United Arab Emirates, it is currently in orbit above Mars collecting data on its weather and atmosphere.
The first successful landing was made by NASA’s Viking 1 in July 1976, followed by Viking 2 in September of that year. A Mars probe launched by the former Soviet Union landed in December 1971, but communication was lost seconds after landing.
China is pursuing an ambitious space program. It is testing reusable spacecraft and also plans to create a manned lunar research station.
In a comment on Saturday, Xinhua said China “is not seeking to compete for leadership in space,” but is committed to “unveiling the secrets of the universe and contributing to the peaceful use of space. ‘space by humanity’.