China Has Become the Second Country to Drive a Rover on the Surface of Mars

On May 22, China’s first Mars rover Zhurong, named after the Chinese god of fire, drove down the ramp of its landing capsule and roamed the surface of Mars. Unlike the American probes which have a plutonium-based nuclear power generator to provide them with abundant energy, Zhurong is solar-powered, and this limits the Chinese mission to around 90 days. Zhurong is a bit heftier than the Spirit and Opportunity rovers that NASA landed on Mars in 2004, but only about one-fourth the mass of the two currently operating NASA Mars rovers, Curiosity and Perseverance. Although this is primarily a technical demonstration, it also has a real scientific component, including analysing and mapping the Martian surface and geology, looking for water ice and studying the climate and surface environment. The Chinese space agency has highlighted the international collaboration on this mission, including contributions from the European Space Agency, Argentina, France and Austria. After America and China, the European Space Agency and Russia’s Roscosmos Space Corporation are planning to jointly land a rover on Mars in 2022.