China's probe to Mars touched down on the Red Planet on Saturday to deploy its Zhurong rover – a history-making feat for a nation on its first-ever Martian mission.
The lander carrying Zhurong completed the treacherous descent through the Martian atmosphere using a parachute to navigate the "seven minutes of terror" as it is known, aiming for a vast northern lava plain known as the Utopia Planitia.
It makes China the first country to carry out an orbiting, landing and roving operation during its first mission to Mars – a feat unmatched by the only other two nations to reach the Red Planet so far, the United States and Russia.
Several U.S., Russian and European attempts to land rovers on Mars have failed in the past, most recently in 2016 with the crash-landing of the Schiaparelli joint Russian-European spacecraft.
The latest successful arrival came in February, when the U.S. space agency NASA landed its rover Perseverance, which has since been exploring the planet. The U.S. rover launched a small robotic helicopter on Mars which was the first-ever powered flight on another planet.
China’s space missions
• China has come a long way in its race to catch up with the United States and Russia, whose astronauts and cosmonauts have decades of experience in space exploration. It has now sent astronauts into space, powered probes to the Moon and landed a rover on Mars.
• China successfully launched the first module of its new space station last month with hopes of having it crewed by 2022. The Tiangong space station is to be located and operated in Low Earth Orbit, 350 km to 435 km above Earth, for an initial period of 10 years. The station is built to support three astronauts for extended stays, and up to six astronauts during crew replacement operations.
• In January 2019, China became the first country to land a probe on the far side of the moon . It was China’s second successful moon landing, after one in 2013.
• In December 2020, China’s Chang’e 5 mission scooped up nearly four pounds of rocks and soil near a volcanic feature called Mons Rumker and brought them back to Earth — the first lunar samples since the ones collected by the Soviet Union’s Luna 24 mission in 1976. Some of the samples were put on public display in Beijing with great fanfare.
• China has said it plans to send a second lander to Mars by 2028 and, ultimately, to bring samples back from the planet.
• In March, Russia’s space agency, Roscosmos, said it would work with China on the construction of a lunar research station, though the countries have yet to offer details of any joint plans.
• China is planning a 10-year mission to collect a sample from an asteroid and pass by a comet.
• It has also proposed orbiters for Venus and Jupiter.
• In 2024, it plans to launch an orbiting telescope similar to the Hubble Space Telescope.