On May 15, the Chinese National Space Administration (CNSA) landed its Zhurong rover in Utopia Planitia, becoming the second country to successfully land a rover on Mars. After a few suspenseful days waiting for the Tianwen-1 orbiter to be in a position to send data confirming all is well, the rover has sent back its first images of the surface of Mars.
These are the first images taken by a non-NASA mission from the surface of the Red Planet; hopefully, the beginning of plenty more to come from this rover. CNSA also shared some awesome gifs of the separation between Tianwen-1 and the lander module.
Lander separation from orbiter: pic.twitter.com/bWGVhvdnNn— Cosmic Penguin (@Cosmic_Penguin) May 19, 2021
The six-wheeled vehicle, named after a Chinese god of fire, is still on its lander as the team investigates the surrounding terrain. It will soon move down a little ramp and onto the Martian terrain to begin its mission in full. Rumors currently suggest May 22 as the beginning of operation, but there is no official confirmation yet.
Zhurong is equipped with cameras, spectrometers, a weather station, a magnetic field detector, and even a ground-penetrating radar. This device will allow scientists to image about 100 meters (330 feet) below the surface of Mars.
The rover is expected to operate for 90 sols – one sol is a Martian day – corresponding to 92 days on Earth. This target might be exceeded, like in the case of several NASA rovers as well as the CNSA Moon rovers Yutu and Yutu-2, which far exceed their three-month-nominal mission.
And if you're curious whether there will be any rivalry between the two Earth nations that currently inhabit the Red Planet, NASA Administrator Sen. Bill Nelson issued a statement on behalf of the US space agency following the release of the photos.
“Congratulations to the China National Space Administration on receiving the first images from the Zhurong Mars rover!” Nelson said. “As the international scientific community of robotic explorers on Mars grows, the United States and the world look forward to the discoveries Zhurong will make to advance humanity’s knowledge of the Red Planet. I look forward to future international discoveries, which will help inform and develop the capabilities needed to land human boots on Mars.”