China became the second country in the world to successfully land a rover on Mars after its Zhurong craft touched down on the red planet.
Named after the Chinese god of fire, Zhurong was aboard the Tianwen-1 spacecraft that launched from the Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site in China on July 23, 2020. It entered Mars’ orbit in February before finally landing around 7:18 p.m. EDT on Friday.
It took more than 17 minutes after the rover opened its solar panels and antenna for signals to traverse the distance between Mars and Earth, according to The Associated Press.
China joins the United States as countries that have successfully landed a rover on Mars. A U.S. mission first landed on the planet in 2004 and has the Curiosity and Perseverance rovers on Mars.
The Soviet Union landed a probe on Mars, but the spacecraft failed minutes later. The European Space Agency had two spacecrafts crash during attempts to land on the planet.
Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator at NASA, congratulated the China National Space Administration on Twitter.
“Congratulations to CNSA’s #Tianwen1 team for the successful landing of China’s first Mars exploration rover, #Zhurong! Together with the global science community, I look forward to the important contributions this mission will make to humanity’s understanding of the Red Planet,” he tweeted.
China’s rover will spend about 93 Mars days (about 90 Earth days) surveying an area of the planet known as Utopia Planitia, the same area Perseverance landed on in February. The goal is to look at Mars’ composition and evidence of water ice. The rover is about the size of a small car and has a ground-penetrating radar, a laser and sensors to gauge the atmosphere and magnetic sphere.
Chinese President Xi Jinping, in a congratulatory letter to the mission team, called the landing “an important step in our country’s interplanetary exploration journey, realizing the leap from Earth-moon to the planetary system and leaving the mark of the Chinese on Mars for the first time. … The motherland and people will always remember your outstanding feats!”
The landing is one of many missions the country hopes to accomplish. China has begun to build a space station. One part of the station successfully launched in April, but China caused some panic a week ago when debris from a rocket flew uncontrollably down to Earth, crashing into the Indian Ocean.
Contributing: The Associated Press
Follow Jordan Mendoza on Twitter: @jord_mendoza.