China has landed a spacecraft on Mars for the first time, becoming the third country to arrive on the Red Planet.
The Tianwen-1 spacecraft landed on a site on a vast plain known as Utopia Planitia, “leaving a Chinese footprint on Mars for the first time,” Xinhua said.
On social media, the official Xinhua news agency declared: “China has left a footprint on Mars for the first time, an important step for our country’s space exploration.”
The China National Space Administration (CNSA) said its rover Zhu Rong – named after the
– had successfully landed on Mars on Saturday after “nine minutes of terror”, referring to Nasa’s description of the time when engineers on Earth have no control or oversight of the rover because of a radio signal delay.
The scientific research team confirmed via the telemetry signal sent by the Zhu Rong Mars rover that on May 15, the Tianwen-1 Lander successfully landed in the pre-selected landing area in the Utopia Plain of southern Mars,” CNSA said.
Early Saturday, the China National Space Administration said the lander containing its Zhurong rover touched down on the red planet’s Utopia Planitia, an achievement which establishes the nation as a serious contender in the realm of space exploration. The lander is expected to release the rover in the coming days to explore the surface of Mars.
After the landing, state media ran triumphant videos, with one state agency piece lauding President Xi Jinping for his longheld “space dream.”
The landing also drew praise from the head of science missions at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration as well as Elon Musk, the chief of Tesla and SpaceX.
“Congratulations!! Mars is very difficult,” Mr. Musk tweeted.
Thomas Zurbuchen, an associate administrator of NASA, said on Twitter: “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.”
The nine-minute automated landing on Mars came with considerable difficulties given the planet’s thin atmosphere and the inability to communicate with Earth after the process is initiated. That China succeeded on its first try—where other nations have failed—is an important milestone for its space program.
“This is a crowning moment for China,” said Namrata Goswami, a co-author of the book “Scramble for the Skies: The Great Power Competition to Control the Resources of Outer Space.” “It sends a signal to the world that it has caught up with the U.S. in capacity for interplanetary exploration, and that it can be an alternative to the U.S. for space leadership,” she said.
On Saturday, Mr. Xi extended his congratulations to the members of the mission, according to remarks published by the state-run Xinhua News Agency.
Chinese President Xi Jinping said in a written congratulatory message that the mission was an important step in China’s space exploration. Scientists should continue their exploration of Mars and accelerate China’s development as a space power.
“The landing left a Chinese mark on Mars for the first time,” Mr. Xi said. “Thanks to your courage in face of challenges and pursuit of excellence, China is now among the leading countries in planetary exploration.”
Top officials witnessed the landing at the Beijing Aerospace Control Center, Xinhua reported, including vice premiers Han Zheng and Liu He, who read out Mr. Xi’s message.
Meanwhile, China Space News said there was “nine minutes of terror” as the landing module entered the martian atmosphere, decelerating and slowly descending to the surface.
The craft left its parked orbit at about 1700 GMT Friday (0100 Beijing time Saturday). The landing module separated from the orbiter three hours later and entered the Martian atmosphere, the official China Space News said.
A solar-powered rover called Zhurong, which is about the size of a small car, will now survey the landing site before conducting inspections.
A ground-penetrating radar is set to look for signs of ancient life and sub-surface water and ice.