The Chinese rover joins three NASA spacecraft already on the surface of Mars.
China’s Zhurong Mars rover, mounted atop a rocket-powered lander, dropped away from its orbiting Tianwen-1 mothership Friday and descended to touchdown on the red planet, official news agencies confirmed, a superpower feat that highlights the growing prowess of the Chinese space program.
Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA’s director of space science at NASA Headquarters, congratulated China on the successful landing, tweeting, “together with the global science community, I look forward to the important contributions this mission will make to humanity’s understanding of the Red Planet.”
Like NASA’s Perseverance rover before it, Zhurong relied on a heat shield and protective aeroshell to protect it from the extreme temperatures generated after hitting the atmosphere at nearly three miles per second. Once through the plasma heating zone, a large parachute presumably unfurled as planned, dramatically slowing the craft to sub-sonic velocities.
Finally, about seven minutes after hitting the atmosphere, the lander was programmed to fall free of its parachute, firing small rocket engines for a powered descent to the surface.
After extensive tests and checkout — China has not revealed the rover’s schedule — two ramps will unfurl, allowing the six-wheel rover to roll off the lander’s upper deck and down onto the surface for at least three months of robotic exploration.