China has become the second country, after the US, to successfully land a rover on Mars. The rover, Zhurong, named after the god of fire in Chinese mythology, landed on Saturday morning at the pre-selected area in Utopia Planitia on Mars.
The successful Mars landing comes after it launched the world’s first quantum satellite, made a soft landing on the far side of the moon, and now, it’s also building its very own space station. Zhurong is part of China’s first Mars probe Tianwen-1, which was launched in July 2020 with three parts – orbiter, lander and rover. The probe reached Mars and started orbiting in February.
Chinese President Xi Jinping congratulated the mission team on its outstanding achievement in a special message. “You were brave enough for the challenge, pursued excellence and placed our country in the advanced ranks of planetary exploration,” he said.
The China National Space Administration (CNSA) said the rover successfully landed on Mars on Saturday after “nine minutes of terror”, referring to NASA’s description of the time when engineers on Earth have no control or oversight of the rover because of a radio signal delay. “The scientific research team confirmed via the telemetry signal sent by the Zhurong rover that on May 15, the Tianwen-1 Lander successfully landed in the pre-selected landing area in the Utopia Plain of southern Mars,” CNSA said.
Various reports state that the rover was encased in an aeroshell for the initial phase of the nine-minute descent. The capsule’s dive to the surface was slowed by pushing up against the Maritian air. The heat this generated was managed by a forward-facing shield. At a predetermined time, a parachute opened to reduce the velocity still further. And finally, the Zhurong rover broke away on a rocket-powered bench for the maneuvers that took it safely to the ground.
If the Chinese rover succeeds in its mission to collect and send back information about the Maritian surface over the next 90 days, China would become only the second country to accomplish the task after the United States. It has to be noted that the first attempt was made by the Soviet Union when it successfully landed its Mars 3 rover in 1971 but, it soon stopped sending signals.
Making a landing on the red planet is not an easy feat because of its harsh environment – extremely powerful dust storms. Moreover, it takes up to 20 minutes for a radio signal to travel between Mars and Earth. The landing process usually takes about seven to nine minutes but falls in the blackout period, during which the ground team cannot guide or direct the descending craft and must leave it on its own to perform the landing process.