China’s Zhurong rover landed safely on Mars on May 15, making China only the third country to successfully land a rover on the red planet. More impressively still, China is the first Mars-going nation to carry out an orbiting, landing and rovering operation as its first mission.
Planetary scientist Roberto Orosei told Nature China is “doing in a single go what NASA took decades to do,” while astrophysicist Jonathon McDowell described China’s decision to include a rover in its maiden Mars outing as a “very gutsy move.”
Where did it land? Zhurong, named after the god of fire in Chinese mythology, separated from the Tianwen-1 orbiter and touched down close to the site of previous NASA missions, on a vast plain called Utopia Planitia.
This area of Mars was formed billions of years ago when a Martian meteorite smashed into the planet’s surface. The surrounding area is largely featureless, covered mostly in volcanic material.