Say 'cheese': China's Zhurong rover sends back selfie from Mars

Chinese space agency releases photos taken on the Red Planet

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China's space agency on Friday released photos showing its Mars rover and lander on the planet's dusty, rocky surface, bearing small national flags.

The four pictures show the upper stage of the Zhurong rover and the view from the rover before it rolled off its platform.

Zhurong placed a remote camera about 10 metres from the landing platform, then withdrew to take a group portrait, the China National Space Administration said.

China landed the Tianwen-1 spacecraft carrying the rover on Mars last month after it spent about three months orbiting the Red Planet. China is the second country to land and operate a spacecraft on Mars, after the United States.

The orbiter and lander both display small Chinese flags and the lander has outlines of the mascots for the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics and Paralympics.

The six-wheeled rover is surveying an area known as Utopia Planitia, especially searching for signs of water or ice that could provide clues as to whether Mars ever sustained life.

At 1.85 metres tall, Zhurong is significantly smaller than the US's Perseverance rover, which is exploring the planet with a tiny helicopter. Nasa expects its rover to collect its first sample in July for return to Earth as early as 2031.

In addition to the Mars mission, China's ambitious space programme plans to send the first crew to its new space station next week. The three crew members plan to stay for three months on the Tianhe, or Heavenly Harmony, station, far exceeding the length of any previous Chinese mission. They will perform spacewalks, construction and maintenance work and carry out science experiments.

Subsequent launches are planned to expand the station, send up supplies and exchange crews. China has also brought back lunar samples, the first by any country's space programme since the 1970s, and landed a probe and rover on the Moon's less explored far side.

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