China’s Zhurong rover has taken itself for a spin on the surface of Mars for the first time. The footage released by the Chinese National Space Administration (CNSA) shows the rover driving down from its landing platform onto the ground on May 22, capturing the view from its front and rear cameras.
Zhurong, which made history a week earlier as China became the second nation ever to successfully land a functioning mission on Mars, rolled down the ramp and drove onto the Martian soil at 10:40 am Beijing time (2:40 am UTC) on Saturday.
Now I’m “literally” on Mars surface. At UTC 2:40, May 22, #Zhurong (#Tianwen1) Mars Rover drove down to the surface of the red planet from the lander. Here’s the the process captured by both front and rear cameras. First batch of scientific data will be obtained later this month. pic.twitter.com/DfCvAvLmSW— Chinese Zhurong Mars Rover (@MarsZhurong) May 22, 2021
The six-wheeled rover, which weighs about 240 kilograms (513 pounds), snapped the photos using its navigation cameras. The rear hazard-avoidance camera captured the lander that traveled 474 million kilometers (295 million miles) to deliver it there.
The rover, named to honor a Chinese god of fire, will spend the next 90 sols (Martian days, equal to 92 Earth days) mapping the surrounding terrain in Utopia Planitia, studying the surface composition, monitoring the Mars weather, and searching for evidence of water. Potentially, it will offer up its first batch of science in a month.
Utopia Planitia in Mars's Northern Hemisphere is a huge basin around 3,000 kilometers (1,860 miles) across, which was likely formed by an impact early on in the Red Planet's history. Evidence suggests it was once an ocean, and there may still be stores of ice hidden in its depths.
Excitingly, the pictures released were also taken in stereo, meaning if you have a spare pair of 3D movie glasses at home (if not, NASA has a handy guide on how to make your own) you can view the first drive in glorious 3D.
There’s a good chance that Zhurong will far outlast its original 90-sol run. Both CNSA's Moon rovers, Yutu and Yutu-2, have far exceeded their original three-month missions, just as NASA'S Opportunity Mars rover did, operating for 15 years instead, while the more recent historic Mars helicopter, Ingenuity, has gone far beyond its original 30-day technology demonstration to become a fully operational working partner of Perseverance.
Tianwen-1, which delivered Zhurong to Mars and is still in orbit, is expected to study Mars for a full Martian year – about 687 Earth days – hopefully sending back more incredible images of the Red Planet.