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.
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 rovers — A history
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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