China’s Mars rover landing closes another major gap with U.S. space program

Science & Health

The successful landing of the Zhurong rover on the Red Planet marks a major milestone in the China National Space Administration’s efforts to catch up to NASA.

Illustration by Derek Zheng

China’s space program marked another major milestone over the weekend: the successful landing of a rover on Mars, a mission far more difficult than a lunar landing.

  • The Zhurong (祝融 zhùróng) rover, named after a traditional Chinese fire god, touched down on May 15 on the Martian surface, and after a 17-minute time delay, successfully sent signals back to ground control 320 million kilometers away, Xinhua reports.
  • For several more days, Zhurong will conduct diagnostic tests, before rolling down from its lander and embarking on a 90-day mission to “explore and analyze the local area, climate, magnetic field and subsurface,” per SpaceNews.
  • The lander’s Tianwen-1 (天问一号 tiānwèn yīhào) orbiter is currently changing its trajectory around Mars to enable Zhurong to send back high-resolution photos of the Utopia Planitia region of the planet’s surface soon.
  • NASA chief Thomas Zurbuchen tweeted his congratulations to the China National Space Administration for its successful landing.

Only the United States has previously operated robots on the surface of the Red Planet. Though the Soviet Union did put a probe on Mars in 1971, it lost communication 110 seconds after landing.

More on Zhurong, and on other Chinese space missions: