China has become the second country after the United States to land a spacecraft on Mars successfully. According to official media reports, around 7:18 am Beijing time on May 15, the controlled landing of Zhu Rong (the six-wheeled tramp named after the mythological Chinese Vulcan) took place. It landed as planned in the south of Utopia Planitia, a large flat area between 25 ° and 30 ° north of the Martian equator.
The Zhurong was launched in July 2020 as part of China’s first independent Mars mission, “Ten Tian-1”. In February, the mission reached Mars and orbited the red planet for three months, searching for the best location for the descent. Then, Tianwen-1 released the lander carrying Zhu Rong at 1 am on May 15. The lander first used a heat shield when entering the Martian atmosphere, then parachuted close to the ground during landing, and finally released a “retro engine” to land safely. Astronomy One is still in orbit and will now provide relay communications between Zhurong and Earth.
Attempts to orbit or land on Mars are only half successful. Before Zhu Rong, the United States had placed eight landers and rovers on Mars, including the most recent Perseverance Rover. John Logsdon, a space policy expert at George Washington University, said: “Landing a spacecraft on the planet Mars is one of the most difficult things.” “Congratulations on the first successful landing of its kind in China.”
According to official media reports, Zhurong is expected to step off the landing pad and onto the surface of Mars for scientific exploration.
Zhurong transported six scientific instruments, including navigation and terrain cameras, underground detection radars, and ground magnetic field detectors. Scientists have long suspected that Utopia Planitia is covered in ancient landslides, so the mobile station will be designed to check the water/ice distribution and look for signs of past lives. “We look forward to Zhu Rong’s scientific discoveries about utopian planets by exploring the surface and the ground so that we can better understand the history of water and the habitability of Mars,” Bernard Foing of the European Space Agency said. He is also the director of the EuroMoonMars project of the International Department of Lunar Exploration.
This year is a tense period for China’s launch and space activities. Last month, China sent the central module of the 22-ton Chinese space station into low-Earth orbit. At the end of this month and early next, cargo and manned missions will be carried out to keep the station operating normally. After its completion in 2022, it will join the US-led International Space Station and become the only fully functional space station.