China’s Zhurong Mars rover sends back first photos from surface

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May 19 (UPI) — China on Wednesday provided the first images from its Tianwen-1 space mission on the surface of Mars.

The photos were taken by Beijing’s Zhurong rover, which is named after a Chinese mythical god of fire and war, that landed on a vast Martian plain called Utopia Planitia. NASA’s Viking 2 mission previously landed in Utopia Planitia in the 1970s.

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China is the third country to successfully land a rover on Mars, after the United States and Russia. It touched down last weekend.

Over the next three months, the rover will collect and send data and information about Mars’ surface.

The images Wednesday from the Chinese National Space Administration show the six-wheeled rover emerging from the craft and opening four solar panels, which are similar to wings, and a communication antenna.

The CNSA said radio communication was more difficult than it had been with its Jade Rabbit rover when it landed on the moon in 2013. Zhurong’s descent included seven minutes without radio transmission.

“Landing on the moon relies primarily on rocket engines to decelerate, as the moon has no atmosphere, while the first stage of landing on Mars uses its atmosphere as brakes,” one researcher said, according to the South China Morning Post.

Hong Kong Polytechnic University President Teng Jin-Guang expressed congratulations to the Chinese research teams. The university played a key role in the rover’s landing.

Chinese President Xi Jinping also sent a congratulatory note to scientists.

Beijing has been ramping up space missions in recent years with the goal of becoming a superpower in space exploration.

Dispatches from Mars: Perseverance rover sends images

NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover used its dual-camera Mastcam-Z imager to capture this image of “Santa Cruz,” a hill about 1.5 miles away from the rover, on April 29. The entire scene is inside of Mars’ Jezero Crater. The crater’s rim can be seen on the horizon line beyond the hill. Photo courtesy of NASA | License Photo