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China celebrates its first Mars mission on new gold and silver coins

The People's Bank of China is issuing three commemorative coins to celebrate the success of Tianwen-1, the country's first mission to orbit and land on Mars.
The People's Bank of China is issuing three commemorative coins to celebrate the success of Tianwen-1, the country's first mission to orbit and land on Mars. (Image credit: People’s Bank of China)

China is celebrating its first successful mission to orbit and land on Mars with a new set of gold and silver commemorative coins.

The People's Bank of China announced it will issue the limited edition Tianwen-1 coins on Monday (Aug 30), three months after China's first Mars rover, Zhurong, began exploring the Red Planet. The three coins will each depict a different aspect of the history-making mission.

China launched its Tianwen-1 spacecraft in July 2020 and the three-part robotic probe entered orbit around Mars in February. Then on May 14, the lander and rover separated from the orbiter and descended to the surface of Utopia Planitia, a large impact basin on Mars. A week later, the six-wheeled Zhurong rolled off the lander to begin searching for traces of water ice and analyzing the composition of the Martian regolith (soil).

Related: China's Mars rover Zhurong just found its parachute (video)

The rover has now completed its primary 90-Martian-day (sol, or about 92 Earth days) mission and has begun its extended operations on the surface. To date, Zhurong has driven almost 3,000 feet (914 m), during which it has explored dunes, studied rocks and sent back images of the descent hardware that helped it land safely on Mars.

The first of the three new People's Bank of China commemoratives, a 5.3-oz (150-gram) gold coin, depicts some of the same spent mission equipment, including the Tianwen-1 backshell and supersonic parachute. The 2.4-inch (60 mm) coin also shows images of the surface that were taken during the landing and the rover and lander as they appeared when stacked together.

A smaller, 0.3-oz (8-g), 0.90-inch (22-mm) gold coin is engraved with an image of the Zhurong rover deployed on the Martian surface.

The third commemorative, made of 1 oz (30 grams) of silver, measures 1.6 inches (40 mm) and depicts the Tianwen-1 orbiter circling Mars.

The People's Bank of China is issuing three gold and silver coins in commemoration of the nation's Tianwen-1 Mars mission. (Image credit: People’s Bank of China)

All three legal tender coins are inscribed, "China's First Mars Exploration Mission Success • Tianwen-1" and share a common design on their front showing the logo for China's planetary exploration program. Each is dated for 2021 and identifies the mission's target planet, Mars.

The large gold coin has a face value of 2000 yuan (or about $310) and is limited to 1,000 pieces. The smaller gold coin is 100 yaun (or about $15.45) in denomination and limited to 30,000 pieces.

The silver coin, limited to 60,000 pieces, has a value of 10 yaun (or $1.55).

The Tianwen-1 gold and silver commemorative coins were minted by Shenzhen Guobao Mint Co., Ltd. and will be distributed by the China Gold Coin Corporation. Sale details, including pricing for the three coins, are still to be released through the China Gold Coin Network website.

China earlier celebrated the Tianwen-1 mission, its first successful interplanetary mission, with a postage stamp released in September 2020. The stamp, which was printed using fluorescent ink, depicted the robotic probe leaving Earth on a trajectory to circle and land on Mars. Issued by China Post, the 1.2 yuan (or about 20 cents) stamp commemorated the launch of the Tianwen-1 mission two months earlier.

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Robert Z. Pearlman

Robert Pearlman is a space historian, journalist and the founder and editor of collectSPACE.com, an online publication and community devoted to space history with a particular focus on how and where space exploration intersects with pop culture. Pearlman is also a contributing writer for Space.com and co-author of "Space Stations: The Art, Science, and Reality of Working in Space” published by Smithsonian Books in 2018. He previously developed online content for the National Space Society and Apollo 11 moonwalker Buzz Aldrin, helped establish the space tourism company Space Adventures and currently serves on the History Committee of the American Astronautical Society, the advisory committee for The Mars Generation and leadership board of For All Moonkind. In 2009, he was inducted into the U.S. Space Camp Hall of Fame in Huntsville, Alabama.