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China’s Mars rover feat took NASA decades

Nan Yang

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China’s Mars rover feat took NASA decades

China is the first Mars-going nation to carry out an orbiting, landing and rovering operation on its first mission

By SARA WEBB And REBECCA ALLENMAY 19, 2021


A model of the Tianwen-1 Mars rover is displayed during an exhibition at the National Museum of China in Beijing on March 4, 2021. Photo: AFP/Wang Zhao

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.

Zhurong is not the first rover to explore this region. In 1976, NASA’s Viking 2 lander touched down further north within the Utopia Planitia basin, returning high-resolution images of the martian surface and analyzing soil samples.

The Viking 2 lander lacked the ability to investigate any further than its initial landing site. But the Zhurong rover should be well equipped to roam farther afield during its mission.

A Long March-5 rocket, carrying an orbiter, lander and rover as part of the Tianwen-1 mission to Mars, lifts off from the Wenchang Space Launch Centre in southern China’s Hainan Province on July 23, 2020. Photo: AFP/Noel Celis

What will it do?
The mission’s three-month scientific program will begin once the Zhurong rover disembarks from the landing craft and begins its journey across the Martian surface. The 240-kilogram, six-wheeled rover is equipped with six individual scientific instruments and has four large solar panels, giving it the appearance of a “blue butterfly.”

Zhurong’s design, instruments and technology on board are comparable to those on board NASA’s twin rovers Spirit and Opportunity, which touched down in January 2004. Although Zhurong is not at the cutting edge of current space exploration technology, the sheer speed of this program’s development since its initiation in 2006 is awe-inspiring.

Like the many Mars rovers before it, Zhurong will probe this alien planet’s environment, and search for signs of water ice on the surface.

The mission is expected to survey four aspects of its local environment:
  • topography and geological structure
  • soil structure and possible presence of water ice
  • chemical composition, minerals and rock types
  • physical characteristics of the atmosphere and the rocky surface.
Zhurong will thus help build a more complete geological picture of the red planet’s history. And, in a genuine first for Martian exploration, it is equipped with a magnetometer to measure the planet’s magnetic field. This is an important study that will help address why Mars has lost much of its atmosphere, leaving its landscape so barren.

This NASA photo shows NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover using its dual-camera Mastcam-Z imager to capture this image of ‘Santa Cruz,’ a hill about 2.5 kilometers away from the rover, on April 29, 2021. Photo: AFP

China’s growing space presence

The Tianwen-1 mission is just one of an impressive list of accomplishments by the China National Space Administration in the past year. Its other feats include launching dozens of Long March rockets, each with multiple payloads, including that of the Chang’e 5 lunar probe, which brought Moon rocks back to Earth for the first time since the end of NASA’s Apollo program in the 1970s.

Last month, China launched the first stage of its Tiangong space station, which next year is set to become the world’s second long-term home for humans in space. The momentous launch didn’t go off without a hitch, however, as debris from the launch vehicle made an uncontrolled re-entry back to Earth, eventually splashing down in the Indian Ocean.

Thankfully no one was hurt in that incident, but it is a timely reminder that China’s accelerating pace of space missions and rocket launches need to be carefully managed.

This year of activity has solidified China’s powerful presence in space, and we are only seeing the beginning of its ambitious future. By 2045, China hopes to become a leading space power, as outlined in the 2018 Aerospace Science and Technology Corporations route map.

In the coming years we can look forward to seeing China launch crewed missions to the Tiangong space station, and in the coming decades can expect to see China join other space-faring nations in missions back to the Moon and Mars.

Sara Webb is a PhD candidate in Astrophysics, Swinburne University of Technology. Rebecca Allen is Swinburne Space Office Project Coordinator | Manager Swinburne Astronomy Productions, Swinburne University of Technology.
 

Tai Hai Chen

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After the crappy Russian rocket carrying China's first Mars probe blew up, China speeded up Mars mission with an orbiter, lander, rover 3 in 1 mission. Instead of sending orbiter then lander then rover like China's moon mission, it was done in 1 go. All thanks to the stupid Russians wasting Chinese people's time.

@vostok
 

bshifter

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Blaming Russians is totally uncalled for and unacceptable. Sometimes things can go wrong.

@Hamartia Antidote
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.”
 

Nan Yang

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After the crappy Russian rocket carrying China's first Mars probe blew up, China speeded up Mars mission with an orbiter, lander, rover 3 in 1 mission. Instead of sending orbiter then lander then rover like China's moon mission, it was done in 1 go. All thanks to the stupid Russians wasting Chinese people's time.

@vostok
Comrade Tai, let's not go there. That failure was heartbreaking for everybody.
 

Tai Hai Chen

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Comrade Tai, let's not go there. That failure was heartbreaking for everybody.
Yes. Heartbreaking. Show you how bad Russian tech is after cold war. Now Russia can't even make it in top 10 in terms of consumer electronics. Chinese never should have trusted Russians with their crappy rocket.
 

Surya 1

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China has all the rights to celebrate and compare themselves with US which had done this many decades ago. Chinese can even say that their children are smarter than Newton because Newton had invented his laws of motion at his middle age while Chinese children know that from their school time. Chinese have many ways to prove the superiority of China and chinese over anybody else in the world. For proving that, they apply the great Chinese logic.
 
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Tai Hai Chen

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China has all the rights to celebrate and compare with us which had done this many decades ago. Chinese can even say that their children are smarter than Newton because Newton had invented is laws of motion at his middle age while Chinese children know that from their school time. Chinese have many ways to prove the superiority of China over anybody else in the world. For proving that they apply the great Chinese logic.
As Newton once said. I see far because I stand on the shoulders of giants. Chinese acknowledge other's achievements and contributions to humanity.
 

letsrock

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China has all the rights to celebrate and compare with us which had done this many decades ago. Chinese can even say that their children are smarter than Newton because Newton had invented is laws of motion at his middle age while Chinese children know that from their school time. Chinese have many ways to prove the superiority of China over anybody else in the world. For proving that they apply the great Chinese logic.
An indian can never digest someone coming up in life. And if they do against all odds then will try to remind them of their place by bringing up some junk. It comes from their caste system.

There is a story where an indian tribal learns and defeats an upper caste prince in archery using the statue of a brahmin teacher as inspiration. When the brahmin teacher comes to know of it - he demands that the tribal know his place and give him a gift because he got inspiration from him. When tribal agrees the brahmin asks him to cut off his thumb and give it as gift so he may never defeat another prince.
 

jus_chillin

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An indian can never digest someone coming up in life. And if they do against all odds then will try to remind them of their place by bringing up some junk. It comes from their caste system.

There is a story where an indian tribal learns and defeats an upper caste prince in archery using the statue of a brahmin teacher as inspiration. When the brahmin teacher comes to know of it - he demands that the tribal know his place and give him a gift because he got inspiration from him. When tribal agrees the brahmin asks him to cut off his thumb and give it as gift so he may never defeat another prince.
lmaoooo
 

Beast

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China has all the rights to celebrate and compare with us which had done this many decades ago. Chinese can even say that their children are smarter than Newton because Newton had invented is laws of motion at his middle age while Chinese children know that from their school time. Chinese have many ways to prove the superiority of China over anybody else in the world. For proving that they apply the great Chinese logic.
Chinese are waiting for Indian Mars Rover landing on Mars. :enjoy:
Yes. Heartbreaking. Show you how bad Russian tech is after cold war. Now Russia can't even make it in top 10 in terms of consumer electronics. Chinese never should have trusted Russians with their crappy rocket.
Stop your nonsense. Russian still prevent a very reliable source of manned mission to ISS even when US space shuttle shut down. They are underfund and will achieve more if money is provided.
 

Surya 1

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An indian can never digest someone coming up in life. And if they do against all odds then will try to remind them of their place by bringing up some junk. It comes from their caste system.

There is a story where an indian tribal learns and defeats an upper caste prince in archery using the statue of a brahmin teacher as inspiration. When the brahmin teacher comes to know of it - he demands that the tribal know his place and give him a gift because he got inspiration from him. When tribal agrees the brahmin asks him to cut off his thumb and give it as gift so he may never defeat another prince.
And that story is completly false.
 

fallstuff

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One thing is for sure. Chinese don't need Russia no mo no mo no mo :china:Russian rockets suck. Can't even get to Mars.
CCP owes everything to Soviet Union including its existence ! The whole time Soviets were helping CCP, Mao like a little brat always whined and complained.

The CCP was founded in 1921, mainly by Chen Duxiu and Li Dazhao, with the help of the Far Eastern Bureau of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and Far Eastern Secretariat of the Communist International.

 

Hamartia Antidote

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Blaming Russians is totally uncalled for and unacceptable. Sometimes things can go wrong.

@Hamartia Antidote
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.”
It's all how you look at it. It took our Space program less than 18 years to put a lander/orbiter combo on Mars from after our first ever satellite launch.. It took your Space program 51 years.

So China is slow. Plus this was in 1976 before the computer microchip revolution was in full-swing.

 
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