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China's Zhurong Mars rover rolls onto the Martian surface (photos)

China's first rover on Mars, the six-wheeled Zhurong, rolled onto the Red Planet's surface late Friday (May 21) to begin exploring its new home: the vast Martian plain of Utopia Planitia.

Zhurong, which landed on Mars a week earlier on May 14, drove on to the Martian surface from its landing platform at 10:40 p.m. EDT on Friday (10:40 a.m. Saturday, May 22 Beijing Time). It is expected to spend the next 90 days mapping the area, searching for signs of water ice, monitoring weather and studying the surface composition.

Photos from Zhurong released by the China National Space Administration show views from the rover's navigation cameras. In one image, the rover is still atop its lander and looking down at the twin ramps it took to roll onto the Martian surface. A second photo looks back at Zhurong's three-legged lander, which delivered the rover to the Martian surface last week.

Related: China's Tianwen-1 Mars mission in photos

The lander for China's Mars rover Zhurong is seen from the Martian surface for the first time in this image from the rover's rear hazard avoidance camera on May 21, 2021.  (Image credit: CNSA)

The 530-lb. (240 kilograms) rover, which is named after an ancient fire god from Chinese mythology, arrived at Mars aboard China's Tianwen-1 spacecraft, which launched in July 2020 and is now orbiting the Red Planet.

Zhurong is a solar-powered rover designed to last at least 90 Martian days (called sols) on the surface of Mars. It is equipped with high-resolution cameras for photographing and mapping its Utopia Planita home. The rover also carries a subsurface radar to look inside the Martian surface, a multi-spectral camera and surface composition detector, a magnetic field detector and a weather monitor.

Related: The Mars roversA history

China's Mars rover Zhurong captured this view of the Martian surface as it prepared to roll off its lander on May 21, 2021. (Image credit: CNSA)

China is only the second country after the United States to land a rover on Mars and Zhurong joins two other active rovers, NASA's Curiosity and Perseverance, now exploring different parts of the Red Planet.

The Tianwen-1 spacecraft, meanwhile, is expected to study Mars for at least a full Martian year, about 687 Earth days.

NASA has also landed three previous rovers to Mars, Sojourner in 1997 and the twin rovers Spirit and Opportunity in 2004, all of which have ended their missions. The European Space Agency will launch its own Mars rover, the Rosalind Franklin, to Mars in 2022 as part of its ExoMars mission.

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Tariq Malik

SPACE.COM EDITOR IN CHIEF — Tariq joined the Space.com team in 2001 as a staff writer, and later editor, covering human spaceflight, exploration and space science. He became Space.com's Managing Editor in 2009. Before joining Space.com, Tariq was a staff reporter for The Los Angeles Times. He is also an Eagle Scout (yes, he has the Space Exploration merit badge) and went to Space Camp four times as a kid and a fifth time as an adult. He has journalism degrees from the University of Southern California and New York University. To see his latest project, you can follow Tariq on Google+, Twitter and on Facebook.