China's Tianwen-1 lander and rover successfully touchdown on Mars
Shortly after realizing the dream of launching its own space station, China reportedly succeeded at its attempt to land the Zhurong lander on Mars on May 14 as a part of its Tianwen-1 mission. The landing is a milestone for the daring endeavor that's a culmination of China's advances in space exploration technology. Here's everything you should know about the mission.
Tianwen mission launched around the same time as NASA's Perseverance
Interestingly, this is China's first mission to the red planet. But instead of separately sending an orbiter, lander, and then rover in that order, all three were sent at once. The Chinese National Space Administration launched the three entities around the same time as NASA's Perseverance blasted off. However, it didn't jettison the lander and instead settled into orbit waiting for the opportune moment.
Lander descended to the Utopia Planitia region on May 14
On May 13, China Association for Science and Technology's Chief Advisor of Interplanetary Exploration Ye Peijian said that the lander would begin its descent at 11 pm UTC on May 14. The orbiter will reportedly continue circling Mars while the lander will deploy the rover after it touches down in an area called Utopia Planitia. The three entities will now coordinate scientific efforts.
Viking 2 lander reportedly found life in same landing region
NASA's Viking 2 lander had also touched down in the Utopia Planitia region in 1976. Surprisingly, a report suggested the lander had found signs of microbial life in Martian soil. NASA claims the lander made its final transmission to Earth in April 1980.
Chinese rover could outlive its 90-Martian day mission
China expects its rover to operate for only 90 Martian days, but it is likely that the estimate is conservative and the rover will continue to remain operational afterward as well. Like NASA, China's rover will study surface material, hunt for ice, and examine geological formations. These objectives align with the current space race mission to find extraterrestrial life and deposits of natural resources.
Successful landing marks a historic moment for China
Reuters reported that the mission's name Tianwen means "Question to Heaven". It is the name of a poem written two millennia ago. China is the world's first country to succeed on its maiden attempt to orbit, land, and deploy a rover on Mars.
China refused to share exact cost of Tianwen-1 mission
At the time of launch in July 2020, Chinese spokesman Liu Tongjie declined Reuters' request to comment on the estimated cost China incurred for the Tianwen-1 mission. However, Tongjie said that the mission was "very economical" since costs have been spread out over years since 2014. It will be interesting to watch the mission unfold given the immense scope for novel discoveries on Mars.