LANDING A ROVER on Mars is another feather in the cap of China’s space programme. Only the United States has successfully pulled off setting down a spacecraft on the red planet before. The European space programme has twice tried and failed.
That state media did not announce the Zhurong’s landing until it had happened without mishap is a sign of how difficult the manoeuvre is. (The screenshot above is taken from state TV coverage.)
If all continues to go well, the rover will spend three months exploring the geology of the Utopia Planitia, a vast but uneven plain in northern Mars thought to be a dried-out ocean bed and where the US space agency, NASA, put down its Viking 2 rover in 1976.
The Zhurong looks a lot like another NASA rover, the Spirit, which was put down in 2004 in the Gusev crater to the south, but five years later got trapped in a sandpit from which it could not be extricated.
The rover offers Beijing another opportunity for national promotion through space diplomacy. President Xi Jinping’s congratulatory message stressed adhering to self-reliance in sci-tech development and called for boosting China’s strength in space technology while promoting the noble cause of peace and development of humanity.
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