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China makes history as second nation to ever land a rover on Mars surface

By Josh Weiss
NASA's Perseverance rover

China has officially landed an exploratory rover on the surface of Mars, becoming only the second nation to do so after the United States.

The China National Space Administration's vehicle was dubbed "Zhurong," after a Chinese fire deity, who is said to have delivered fire unto early humans. Launched on the the Tianwen-1 probe last July, the rover entered Martian orbit in February of this year before landing on the planet's surface Friday evening (about 7 p.m. EST). According to NBC News, Zhurong touched down "in a region of Mars known as Utopia Planitia. The vast, icy plain was also where NASA's now-defunct Viking 2 lander touched down in 1976."

"Congratulations to CNSA’s #Tianwen1 team for the successful landing of China’s first Mars exploration rover, #Zhurong!" Thomas Zurbuchen, Associate Administrator at NASA, wrote on Twitter. "Together with the global science community, I look forward to the important contributions this mission will make to humanity’s understanding of the Red Planet."

Zhurong Mars rover

Earlier this year, China followed in the footsteps of the U.S. and Russia by sending a scientific probe to the moon and back. It was the first mission in over four decades to bring back samples from the cratered satellite. In February, America's fifth and most sophisticated rover to date, Perserverance, arrived on Mars.

"Unlike NASA, which released images of the landing of the Perseverance Rover within minutes of them arriving back at Earth via the Deep Space Network, we have heard very little from CNSA about this mission," David Flannery, a lecturer of Earth and Planetary Sciences at Australia's University of Queensland, told CNET. "The reluctance of China's space agency to share up to date information is almost certainly related to fears that a mission failure might negatively reflect upon Chinese political leaders."

China’s space program recently came under criticism from NASA when wayward debris from a Chinese Long March 5B rocket crashed into the Indian Ocean.

“Spacefaring nations must minimize the risks to people and property on Earth of re-entries of space objects and maximize transparency regarding those operations,” NASA Administrator Sen. Bill Nelson said in a statement at the time. “It is clear that China is failing to meet responsible standards regarding their space debris. It is critical that China and all spacefaring nations and commercial entities act responsibly and transparently in space to ensure the safety, stability, security, and long-term sustainability of outer space activities.”

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