BEIJING: China´s "Zhurong" rover, part of its ambitious space programme to send a probe to Mars, is set to attempt the challenging landing in the next couple of days, with a remit to harvest data on the Red Planet.
It´s a relatively busy time for Martian exploration, with China, the US and hitherto space minnows the UAE sending probes to the treacherous planet, where failure to land safely is more frequent than success.
China´s Tianwen-1 probe successfully launched last July and entered Mars´ orbit in February -- a major milestone for Beijing´s ambitious space programme.
Space-watchers are eager to see whether the Zhurong rover will land successfully after a separate Chinese rocket hurtled uncontrollably back towards Earth last week, disintegrating in the Indian Ocean.
The six-wheeled, solar-powered Zhurong -- named after the god of fire in ancient Chinese mythology -- is on a mission to collect rocks, data and scan the surface.
But its landing is set to be a nail-biter, with Chinese state media describing the several minute process of using a parachute, rocket to slow descent and buffer legs as "the most challenging part of the mission."
Here is a look at how China´s efforts to reach the red planet compare with those of other countries throughout history.
NASA´s Perseverance earlier this year became the fifth rover to successfully land on Mars since 1997, launching shortly after China´s Tianwen-1.
It has a remit to hunt for signs of ancient microbial life on the Red Planet and in April flew a helicopter-drone on another world for the first time.
About the size of a small SUV, it weighs a metric ton, has 19 cameras and two microphones -- which scientists hope will be the first to record sound on Mars.
Scientists hope the rover, equipped with its own oxygen-producing facilities, can help pave the way for future manned missions.
The Arab world´s first mission to another planet successfully arrived in Mars´ orbit in February, after it was launched by the United Arab Emirates last July.
The spacecraft, which will remain high above the surface in orbit, is designed to further study Mars´ atmosphere and how its climate changed over time.
The European Space Agency and Russian space agency´s ExoMars joint mission got off to a rocky start when its first phase, the Schiaparelli lander, spun out of control and crashed on Mars´ surface in October 2016.
Named after a 19th-century Italian astronomer, the failed mission will pave the way for the second part of the ExoMars programme -- the Rosalind Franklin rover, set to launch in 2022.
NASA´s flagship Curiosity rover -- of which Perseverance is an updated version -- remains active on Mars´ surface after landing in 2012 in a spectacle watched by millions.
Charged with finding out whether Mars could have once supported life, the sophisticated car-sized rover has built on the work of its NASA predecessors and discovered further evidence of water previously on the planet´s surface.
It is now studying Mars´ geology and the history of its environment. To do this, it is climbing a five-kilometre tall mountain in an ancient lakebed.
NASA´s Opportunity, the longest-running Mars rover, reached the surface of the Red Planet in 2004, staying operational until 2018 when it was hit by a dust storm.
It and its twin rover, Spirit, confirmed that there was once liquid water on Mars´ arid surface.
After several failed Mars flyby and orbiter attempts between 1960 and 1971, two identical Soviet Union spacecraft finally reached the Red Planet in November and December 1971 -- only for both to get swept up in a huge dust storm.
This occurred at the height of the Space Race, when the US and Soviet Union were competing to demonstrate superior spaceflight ability amid Cold War hostilities.
The earlier spacecraft, Mars 2, crashed upon landing after orbiting successfully for 18 hours, but Mars 3 landed successfully and operated for 20 seconds on the surface before it fell over.
Both spacecraft sent images, temperature readings and information about Mars´ gravity and magnetic fields back to the Soviet Union.
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