Zhurong on Mars T-Shirt
China’s space program took a major leap when it successfully landed the Zhurong rover on Mars, on May 14 2021, marking the country’s first landing on another planet. The rover rolled off its landing platform and onto the dusty Martian surface on a mission to search for evidence of water and hints of past life.
The touchdown makes China the second country in history to deposit a rover on the surface of Mars. After months in orbit around the red planet, the Tianwen-1 spacecraft released the Zhurong rover for a landing in Utopia Planitia, a vast plain that may once have been covered by an ancient Martian ocean. The 529-pound rover survived a perilous descent to the surface, including atmospheric entry, slowing from supersonic speeds with a parachute, and finally using retrorockets to safely alight on the ground.
Named for an ancient Chinese fire god, the 529-pound Zhurong rover is similar in size to NASA’s Spirit and Opportunity rovers, which landed on the red planet in 2004 and sent back exciting images and data about the planet’s surface conditions. China’s rover could make additional important discoveries concerning water and past habitability on the planet, paving the way for future human missions to Mars.
“Landing safely on Mars is a huge challenge, especially for China’s first soft landing attempt,” Long Xiao, a planetary scientist at the China University of Geosciences, said before the safe touchdown. “But it is a necessary step for Mars and deep-space exploration.”
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