China lands spacecraft on Mars

China, Tianwen-1 Mars probe

China has become the first nation after the US to land a spacecraft on Mars, according to state media.

The official Xinhua News Agency cited the China National Space Administration (CNSA) as saying the lander had touched down.

Earlier, CNSA said the Tianwen-1 probe has collected a large amount of scientific data since entering Mars’ orbit on February 10 and the window for setting down on an icy area of the planet known as Utopia Planitia had been determined by “current flying conditions”.

Named after the Chinese god of fire, Zhurong, the rover will stay in the lander for diagnostics tests for several days before rolling down a ramp to begin exploring for signs of life.

Only the United States had previously successfully landed and operated a spacecraft on Mars – nine times, beginning with the twin Vikings in 1976 and, most recently, with the Perseverance rover in February.

The Perseverance rover and a tiny helicopter are currently exploring Mars.

Nasa expects the rover to collect its first sample in July for return to Earth in a decade.

China this year launched the initial module of a permanent space station, although the uncontrolled return to Earth of the launch rocket drew some criticism.

The launch of the Tianhe, or Heavenly Harmony, module is the first of 11 missions to build and provision the station and send up a three-person crew by the end of next year.

China also recently brought back lunar samples, the first by any country’s space programme since the 1970s, and landed a probe and rover on the moon’s less explored far side.

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