A week after its successful Mars landing, China said on Saturday that it had deployed a land rover on the planet’s surface, a feat that only the United States had accomplished before.
The solar-powered rover, named Zhurong after a god of fire in Chinese mythology, drove down from its landing platform and reached Martian soil on Saturday morning, the China National Space Administration said. It is expected to explore the planet’s surface for at least 90 days.
The Mars mission, China’s first, may seem less glamorous than NASA’s latest, since it is essentially repeating feats that the Americans accomplished decades ago. Still, it represents another milestone in China’s ambition to make itself a “great space power,” as its top leader, Xi Jinping, put it last month.
More potential milestones lie ahead. Here’s what to know about them.
In January 2019, China became the first country to land a probe on the far side of the moon, the part that perpetually faces away from Earth. It was China’s second successful moon landing, after one in 2013.
That year, it put a rover on the moon’s surface that still operates today, far beyond the three months it was expected to last. As of late April, it had roamed nearly half a mile from its starting point in the Von Kármán crater near the moon’s southern pole, according to a report on Chinese state television.
In December, China sent yet another craft to the moon. It scooped up nearly four pounds of rocks and soil near a volcanic feature called Mons Rümker and brought them back to Earth — the first lunar samples since the ones collected by the Soviet Union’s Luna 24 mission in 1976. Some of the samples were put on public display in Beijing with great fanfare.
China names its moon probes after Chang’e, a moon goddess in its mythology. Three more are planned by 2027, featuring additional rovers, a flying probe and even a proposed experiment in 3-D printing in space, according to statements from China’s space agency.
The missions are meant to lay the foundation for a lunar base and visits by astronauts, or taikonauts, as the Chinese call them, in the 2030s. So far, only the American Apollo programs have put people on the moon.
In March, Russia’s space agency, Roscosmos, said it would work with China on the construction of a lunar research station, though the countries have yet to offer details of any joint plans.
A Rival Space Station
China’s launch in April of the main module for its newest orbiting space station drew more international attention than expected — for the wrong reasons. After reaching orbit, the main rocket booster tumbled ominously back to Earth in what is called an “uncontrolled re-entry.” The debris landed in the Indian Ocean in May, narrowly missing the Maldives and spurring criticism of how China carries out the launches of its heaviest rocket, the Long March 5B.
That mission was the first of 11 needed to build China’s third, and most ambitious, space station by the end of 2022. Two more Long March 5B rockets will carry additional modules, and other variants will launch smaller parts. Four missions, one planned for June, will return Chinese astronauts to…
Read More News: The Moon, Mars and Beyond: China’s Ambitious Plans in Space