China successfully landed a spacecraft on Mars, becoming the second country in history after the United States to have a rover on the Red Planet.
The rover, Zhurong — named after a god of fire in Chinese mythology — successfully landed at the pre-selected area in Utopia Planitia on Mars.
• The first successful landing ever was made by NASA’s Viking 1 in July 1976 and then by Viking 2 in September that year.
• A Mars probe launched by the former Soviet Union landed in December 1971, but communication was lost seconds after landing.
• More than 40 Mars missions have been launched since the 1960s, but only about half have succeeded. The success rate for landing is even lower.
• Only the Americans have really mastered landing on Mars until now. All other countries that have tried have either crashed or lost contact soon after reaching the surface of Mars.
• India has also succeeded in sending a spacecraft to Mars.
• The successful touchdown of the Chinese spacecraft on Mars is a remarkable achievement, given the difficult nature of the task.
Launch of Tianwen-1
• Tianwen-1, consisting of an orbiter, a lander and a rover, was launched on July 23, 2020. It was the first step in China’s planetary exploration of the solar system, with the aim of completing orbiting, landing and roving on the Red Planet in one mission.
• 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 the Earth’s orbit.
• The five-tonne spacecraft blasted off from the southern Chinese island of Hainan, launched by the powerful Long March 5 rocket.
• After more than six months in transit, Tianwen-1 reached the Red Planet in February where it had been in orbit since.
• Tianwen-1 was one of three that reached Mars in February, with US rover Perseverance successfully touching down on February 18 in a huge depression called Jezero Crater, more than 2,000 km away from Utopia Planitia.
• Hope — the third spacecraft that arrived at Mars in February this year — is not designed to make a landing. Launched by the UAE, it is currently orbiting above Mars gathering data on its weather and atmosphere.
Landing on Red Planet
• The lander, carrying a Mars rover, touched down at its pre-selected landing area in the southern part of Utopia Planitia, a vast plain on the northern hemisphere of Mars.
• It took ground controllers more than an hour to establish the success of the pre-programmed landing. The rover took more than 17 minutes to unfold its solar panels and antenna and send signals to ground controllers more than 320 million kilometres away.
• The six-wheel solar-powered Zhurong rover weighs about 240 kg and carries six scientific instruments. It will be later deployed from the lander for a three-month mission.
• Zhurong will survey the landing site before departing from its platform to conduct inspections.
• It will study the planet’s surface soil and atmosphere.
• Zhurong will also look for signs of ancient life, including any sub-surface water and ice, using a ground-penetrating radar.
• A sample-return mission is also planned.
• Significantly, it will now be a space race on Mars as the Chinese spacecraft has landed three months after the successful landing of US space agency NASA’s Perseverance rover which is busy exploring the Red Planet’s surface with a helicopter hovering around.
• The Perseverance and Zhurong explore different parts of Mars. While the Perseverance landed in a deep crater near the planet’s equator called Jezero, the Zhurong rover would target Utopia Planitia, a vast terrain in the planet’s northern hemisphere.