Caixin
May 15, 2021 11:40 AM

Update: China Becomes Second Nation to Land on Mars

China on Saturday landed an unmanned spacecraft on the surface of Mars, becoming only the second nation to do so after the United States.

After orbiting the red planet for more than three months, the Tianwen-1 probe released a landing craft that touched down at 7:18 a.m. Beijing time, China’s space agency said.

The lander contains a solar-powered rover called Zhurong that will collect and analyze samples of Martian rocks.

The achievement comes after Nasa in February landed its own rover, named Perseverance, on the surface of the planet.

China launched Tianwen-1 last July from the Wenchang space center in the island province of Hainan.

The probe then traveled the nearly 200 million miles to the fourth planet in the solar system, entering its orbit in February.

The craft began maneuvering into position for its descent at 1 a.m. Saturday. Three hours later, the lander separated from the orbiter and entered the Martian atmosphere.

After a further three-hour flight, the lander entered a final nine-minute descent often described as “terror” because it occurs faster than radio signals can reach Earth from Mars, limiting communications.

Nonetheless, the lander successfully touched down in an area known as Utopia Planitia, a large impact basin that is home to a large amount of underground ice.

Zhurong, the six-wheeled, 240-kilogram rover, is expected to spend around three months on the Martian surface.

It shares the red planet with Nasa’s Perseverance, which is searching the Jezero crater for signs of former life and collecting its own rock and soil samples.

Several countries and international organizations have attempted to land on Mars in the past, but only the U.S. and China have done so successfully.

The feat adds to a string of spacefaring successes for the Asian nation, including the launch of the first module of its new space station last month.

Other missions haven’t gone so well. Last week, part of China’s Long March 5B rocked disintegrated in an uncontrolled landing over the Indian Ocean in what the U.S. and other countries said was a potential danger to life and property.

Contact reporter Matthew Walsh (matthewwalsh@caixin.com) and editor Lu Zhenhua (zhenhualu@caixin.com)

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