It has been a season of space firsts for China. In the previous issue, we reported the successful launch of the central piece of a space station. Last Saturday, China became the third country after the United States (US) and Russia in the world to land a rover on Mars.
The rover touched down on the Utopia Plain in southern Mars. If Zhu Rong succeeds in its mission to collect and send back information about the Martian surface over the next 90 days, China will become only the second country to successfully complete the task after the US. While Russia (then known as the Soviet Union) landed its Mars 3 rover successfully in 1971, the rover soon stopped sending signals.
China has named the rover Zhu Rong after the Chinese god of fire and war. The rover was launched seven months ago in July 2020, and after a long journey through outer space, the machine began its descent to the Martian surface. Landing on Mars is tough as it is impossible to maintain a communication link between Earth and a Martian spacecraft as it descends. Therefore rovers have to manage on their own without humans to troubleshoot should something go wrong. This is the reason why only half the attempts to land on the Red Planet have succeeded.
Besides Zhu Rong, there are two working rovers on Mars right now – Curiosity and Perseverance – both of them operated by US space agency NASA, which has so far landed 10 missions on Mars.