An unmanned Chinese explorer has successfully landed on Mars. The Chinese space probe Tianwen-1 which departed July 23rd in 2020 completed the journey with success. The China National Space Administration (CNSA) has announced this. China is the third country that has landed a spacecraft on the Red Planet. The landing of the Zhurong is a triumph for the Asian country, which has more and more ambitions in the field of space travel. Tianwen-1’s mission is to explore the surface of Mars.

Earlier, the Soviet Union in 1971 and the United States in 1976 had also successfully landed space probes on Mars. However, China will become the second nation after the United States that can drive a vehicle on the planet.

The explorer had to go through the “seven minutes of agony.” The descent through the atmosphere of Mars is considered treacherous and has proved a bridge too far for a number of previous missions. China’s space agency confirmed that the landing was a success and President Xi Jinping congratulated all involved. State television paid attention to that historic event in the program “Nihao Mars” (Hello Mars).

Zhurong the Fire god

Zhurong is named after a fire god of the same name in Chinese mythology. The rover flew to Mars aboard the Tianwen-1 spacecraft. The Tianwen-1, meaning Heavenly Questions and named after a Chinese poem written 2,000 years ago, is China’s first standalone mission to Mars. A co-launch with Russia failed to clear the atmosphere in 2011. The mission started last July. In February, the mission reached the planet Mars after a journey of 470 million km crossing in about 200 days.

From orbit around Mars, the probe looked for a suitable place for the Zhurong to land. Utopia Planitia, a plateau in the northern hemisphere of Mars has become the landing place for the Mars rover. Utopia Planitia is a crater plain 3,300 kilometres wide in the planet’s northern hemisphere.

From its new base, Zhurong must look for traces that could indicate the presence of water and life. At least ninety days of Mars are allotted for that operation. A day on Mars is called a Sol and lasts a total of 24 hours and 39 minutes. Which is extremely similar to Earth compared to other planets in our solar system.

Utopia Planitia is believed to have once encompassed an ocean. A gigantic mass of ice could still be present in the environment below the surface. Furthermore, the mission must collect information about the composition of the local rock formations and the general condition of the environment, with extra attention to weather conditions and climate.

Zhurong weighs about 240 kilograms and is powered by expanded solar panels. The robot car is also equipped with a camera, which is supposed to take images of the planet’s surface and send them to Earth.

China wants to use the Zhurong to find traces of life and map the surface of Mars. The explorer can move across the planet’s surface at a speed of about 200 meters per hour. Zhurong is powered by solar energy. Furthermore, China wants to show the rest of the world what it is capable of while showing what its ambitions are. China’s first landing on Mars follows the launch last month of the hull of what is to become a permanent space station and a mission in late 2020 that recovered rocks from the moon.

Perseverance

The United States has already successfully deployed a Mars explorer five times. The last time that happened was in February this year when the landing of the space probe Perseverance.

Closest to Zhurong is Perseverance, Viking 2 and Insight probes. A little further away there are the landing sites of Curiosity and Spirit. At a greater distance, Opportunity, Pathfinder, Viking 1 and Phoenix have set foot on the planet’s surface.

The Soviet Union made an attempt in the early 1970s to explore the surface of Mars with a vehicle. However, upon landing, the Russian spacecraft was caught in a sandstorm, presumably damaging the rover. As a result, the Russian Mars explorer could never be ordered to explore Mars’ surface.

“Seven Minutes of Terror”

Landing on Mars is extremely difficult. The landing takes about seven minutes. The explorer “crashes” towards the surface of Mars at a speed of about 3 miles per second, and a few minutes later it has to land softly dangling from a parachute. This is so fast that the flight control from Earth cannot intervene. Each assignment would not arrive until fifteen minutes later when the landing was already over. Meanwhile, there are many ways the lander can crash, such as a sudden gust of wind, a programming error, or a part that collapses under enormous forces.

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