China's rover takes first drive on surface of Mars

BEIJING • A remote-controlled Chinese motorised rover drove down the ramp of a landing capsule and onto the surface of the Red Planet, making China the first nation to orbit, land and deploy a land vehicle on its inaugural mission to Mars.

Zhurong, named after a mythical Chinese god of fire, drove down to the surface of Mars at 10.40am Beijing time yesterday, according to a post on the rover's official Chinese social media account.

The 240kg Zhurong, which has six scientific instruments, including a high-resolution topography camera, will study the planet's surface soil and atmosphere.

Powered by solar energy, Zhurong will also look for signs of ancient life - including any subsurface water and ice - using a ground-penetrating radar during its 90-day exploration of the Martian surface.

China's unmanned Tianwen-1 spacecraft blasted off from the southern Chinese island of Hainan in July last year. After more than six months in transit, Tianwen-1 reached the Red Planet in February, where it has been in orbit since.

On May 15, the landing capsule carrying the rover separated from Tianwen-1 and touched down on a vast plain known as Utopia Planitia.

The first images taken by the rover were released by the Chinese space agency on Wednesday.

Tianwen-1 was one of three probes that reached Mars in February.

United States rover Perseverance touched down on Feb 18 in a huge depression called Jezero Crater, more than 2,000km from Utopia Planitia.

Hope - the third spacecraft to arrive in February - is not designed to land. Launched by the United Arab Emirates, it is orbiting above Mars, gathering data on its weather and atmosphere.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on May 23, 2021, with the headline 'China's rover takes first drive on surface of Mars'. Subscribe