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China Lands on Mars: Tianwen-1 Rover on the Red Planet

China Tianwen-1
Artist’s impression of the Zhurong rover surveying the surface of Mars – Credit: China National Space Administration – Aerospace China (Journal) – CC BY-SA 4.0

The lander and rover of China’s Tianwen-1 space mission landed on Mars on Saturday. According to China’s state-run news agency Xinhua, the Tianwen-1 probe has functioned normally since its successful launch on July 23, 2020.

China’s National Space Administration (CNSA) said on Friday that the probe entered the Martian orbit on February 10, 2021 and has obtained a large amount of scientific data. An orbiter from the United Arab Emirates arrived one day earlier, and last week, the U.S. space agency NASA’s Perseverance rover landed on the planet.

All three of the missions were launched in July to take advantage of the close alignment between Earth and Mars that happens only once every two years. According to the evaluation of its flight status, the probe was scheduled to land on Utopia Planitia on Mars.

Tianwen-1 is designed to complete orbiting, landing, and roving in one mission.

What is the Tianwen-1

The Tianwen-1 probe includes an orbiter, a lander and a rover, and while in orbit, the space agency said the probe will be mapping the planet’s surface and collecting additional data, particularly about the prospective landing site for the rover.

The deputy chief designer of the probe, Tan Zhiyun, told China Central Television (CCTV) the Tianwen-1 will take pictures of the prospective landing zone and judge the topography and potential for dust storms.

Tianwen-1 represents the most ambitious mission yet for China’s secretive, military-linked space program that first put an astronaut in orbit around Earth in 2003 and last year brought moon rocks back to Earth for the first time since the 1970s. China was also the first country to land a spacecraft on the little-explored far side of the moon in 2019.

With the successful landing attempt, China became the third nation to achieve a successful soft landing on Mars, after the Soviet Union and the United States. If the deployment of the rover is also successful, China would become only the second nation to accomplish this feat, after the United States, and the first nation to orbit, land and release a rover in its maiden mission to Mars.

The scientific objectives of the mission related to the geology of Mars, the current and past presence of water, the internal structure of the planet, identification of minerals and rock types on the surface, as well as characterization of the space environment and atmosphere of Mars.

On 24 April 2020, China’s planetary exploration mission was officially named “Tianwen Series”, the first Mars exploration mission was named “Tianwen-1”, and subsequent planetary missions were numbered sequentially.

The name Tianwen, meaning “questions to heaven” or “quest for heavenly truth”, comes from the long poem of the same name written by Qu Yuan (about 340–278 BC), a poet of ancient China.

With information from Xinhua and VOA

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