China drives Zhurong rover on Mars

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Beijing, May 23 (IANS) China’s Mars rover has driven down from its landing platform to the surface of the Red planet after a week of its arrival there, the media reported.

China landed a probe on a planet other than Earth for the first time on May 15. It has now become the second country, after the US, to operate a rover on the Red planet.

The Zhurong robot is due to study the planet’s surface rocks and atmosphere. It will also look for signs of life, including any subsurface water or ice, the BBC reported.

On May 15, Zhurong, named after a Chinese mythical fire god, touched down at its pre-selected landing area in the southern part of Utopia Planitia, a vast plain on the northern hemisphere of Mars.

The six-wheeled solar-powered Zhurong rover, resembles a blue butterfly and has a mass of 240 kg. It also has an expected lifespan of at least 90 Martian days (about three months on Earth).

The camera on the orbiter has taken detailed images at a resolution of about 0.7 metres, revealing the pre-selected landing area has complicated terrain with many rocks and more craters than previously expected.

The deputy chief commander of the mission, Zhang Yuhua, said the rover was designed to operate for 92 Earth days (or 90 Mars days, known as “sols”, which are slightly longer than Earth days) and would share its data via the orbiter.

“We hope we can get a comprehensive covering of Martian topography, landform and environment, and the exploratory data of the radar detecting the Martian subsurface during one Martian year,” Yuhua was quoted as saying.

“By doing so, our country will have our own abundant and first-hand data about Martian resources,” she added.

Barely a week after its arrival, Zurong also sent back first footage from Mars — two photos and two videos .

The US was the first country to land a robot on Mars. US space agency NASA landed its Viking-2 mission in 1976 in Utopia Planitia.

This colossal basin, more than 3,000 km wide,was likely formed by an impact early in the planet’s history. There is some evidence pointing to it having held an ocean long ago.

Remote sensing by satellites indicates there are significant stores of ice at depth, the BBC reported.

In February, the US landed the Perseverance robot in a deep crater near Mars’ equator called Jezero.

Europe’s space agency, which has twice failed with landing attempts, will send a rover called Rosalind Franklin to Mars next year in a joint project with Russia, the report said.