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AFP
May 16, 2021

China’s Zhurong rover touches down on Red Planet

AFP
May 16, 2021

BEIJING: China’s probe to Mars touched down on the Red Planet on Saturday to deploy its Zhurong rover, state media reported, a triumph for Beijing’s bold space ambitions and a history-making feat for a nation on its first-ever Martian mission.

The lander carrying Zhurong completed the treacherous descent through the Martian atmosphere using a parachute to navigate the "seven minutes of terror" as it is known, aiming for a vast northern lava plain known as the Utopia Planitia.

It "successfully landed in the pre-selected area", state broadcaster CCTV said in a special television programme dedicated to the mission called "Nihao Mars" ("Hello Mars").

The official Xinhua news agency cited the China National Space Administration (CNSA) in confirming the touchdown.

It makes China the first country to carry out an orbiting, landing and roving operation during its first mission to Mars -- a feat unmatched by the only other two nations to reach the Red Planet so far, the United States and Russia.

President Xi Jinping sent his "warm congratulations and sincere greetings to all members who have participated in the Mars exploration mission", Xinhua reported.

China has now sent astronauts into space, powered probes to the Moon and landed a rover on Mars -- the most prestigious of all prizes in the competition for dominion of space.

Zhurong, named after a Chinese mythical fire god, arrived a few months behind America’s latest probe to Mars -- Perseverance -- as the show of technological might between the two superpowers plays out beyond the bounds of Earth.

Six-wheeled, solar-powered and weighing roughly 240 kilograms, the Chinese rover is on a quest to collect and analyse rock samples from Mars’ surface.

In a message published on Saturday evening on the social network Weibo, the Zhurong greeted its "Earth friends".

"I’m still inside the landing pod," a post on its official account said. "Can’t wait to find out what’s on Mars."

The launch of China’s Tianwen-1 Mars probe which carried the rover last July marked a major milestone in China’s space programme.

The spacecraft entered Mars’ orbit in February and after a prolonged silence state media announced it had reached the "crucial touchdown stage" on Friday.