The Chinese Zhurong driver has returned to his first images from the surface of Mars after descending to a vast plateau called Utopia Planitia. Rover plunged into the atmosphere of Mars last Friday, bundled together with a landing plane after separating from China’s Tianwen-1 probe.
According to new images released by the Chinese National Space Administration (CNSA), the robots are carefully performing the first steps after landing: the lander lowered a small ramp to help Zhurong place his six wheels on the surface of Mars for the first time. And Zhurong opened its four-winged solar panel and communications antenna, as seen from one of the driver’s navigation cameras.
Operation Tianwen-1, which arrived in orbit on Mars in February, is China’s first trek to Mars. Until last week, only the United States had been able to successfully land and steer drivers on the Red Planet. NASA’s latest Rover, Perseverance, landed in February on the crater of Lake Jezero, just over a thousand miles from Utopia Planitia’s landing site. (NASA’s Viking-2 operation also landed at Utopia Planitia in 1976.)
Surviving a dive through the atmosphere of Mars – the “seven-minute horror” – is the hardest part of the journey to the planet. The CNSA also published pictures of the landing phase in operation:
Tianwen-1 started from the Wenchang spacecraft launch site in China’s Hainan Province on July 23 last year, beginning its seven-month trek to the Red Planet. Now that Zhurong is preparing to travel to Utopia Planitia, China has its first robot laboratory on Mars. Rover’s instruments aim to study the geology and climate of the planet during its planned 90-day mission.