China makes history with Mars rover landing

Country's first mission to Red Planet successfully carries out orbiting, landing and roving operation

FILE - This file image made available by the China National Space Administration on Dec. 16, 2020, shows the Tianwen-1 probe en route to Mars. China’s first Mars rover will be named Zhurong after a traditional fire god, the government announced Saturday, April 24, 2021. The rover is aboard the Tianwen-1 probe that arrived in Mars orbit on Feb. 24 and is due to land in May to look for evidence of life.  (CNSA via AP, File)
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China successfully landed its six-wheeled space rover on Mars at the weekend, becoming the first nation to to carry out an orbiting, landing and roving operation during its first mission to the Red Planet.

On Saturday, the Zhurong robot landed on the vast Utopia Planitia plain, which is the largest recognised impact basin on Mars.

The rover used a parachute and backfiring rockets to make a fiery descent and was protected by a heat shield as it touched down.

China became only the second nation to successfully land a spacecraft on Mars, after the US. The Soviet Union touched down on Mars in 1971, but its mission failed soon after when the craft stopped transmitting information.

Given the difficult nature of the task, the achievement has been dubbed outstanding by Chinese President Xi Jinping, who congratulated the team behind Tianwen-1, China's first independent interplanetary mission.

The China National Space Administration has yet to confirm the successful landing, but it was announced on social media by the state-run China Global Television Network.

The rover entered Mars's orbit in February after launching on a Long March 5 rocket from Earth in July last year.

Since landing, the Zhurong rover, named after a god of fire in Chinese mythology, has taken high resolution pictures of the area and has been searching for a safe spot to detach from the lander.

Engineers aim to pick an area that is devoid of large craters and boulders.

Once a spot has been determined, the rover will drive on to the surface via a ramp and will spend about three months on the Red Planet.

The aim of the mission is to study the composition of the Martian surface, including soil and rock formation, and look for signs of water ice.

A visitor to an exhibition on China's space program looks at a life size model of the Chinese Mars rover Zhurong, named after the Chinese god of fire, at the National Museum in Beijing on Thursday, May 6, 2021. China has landed a spacecraft on Mars for the first time in the latest advance for its space program. The official Xinhua News Agency said Saturday, May 15, that the lander had touched down, citing the China National Space Administration. Chinese characters read: Build a Space Power. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)
A life size model of the Chinese Mars rover, Zhurong, named after the Chinese god of fire. AP

In February, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, congratulated China on its Tianwen-1 spacecraft reaching Mars.

The orbiter-rover entered Mars's orbit less than 24 hours after the UAE made history by becoming the fifth space agency to reach the Red Planet with its Hope Probe.