China’s “Zhurong” rover successfully landed on Mars on Saturday, state media reported, a triumph over Beijing’s increasingly brutal space ambitions.
The lander with Zhurong completed the treacherous descent through the atmosphere of Mars using a parachute to navigate the “seven minutes of terror” as it is called, targeting a vast northern lava plain known as the Utopia Planitia.
The mission “has successfully landed in the pre-selected area,” state broadcaster CCTV said, while official Xinhua news agency called the China National Space Administration (CNSA) to confirm the landing.
It makes China the first country to conduct an orbit, landing and roving operation on its first mission to Mars – an achievement unmatched by the only other two countries to reach the Red Planet, the US and Russia.
Named after a Chinese mythical fire god, Zhurong arrives a few months behind America’s last probe to Mars – perseverance – as the show of technological might between the two superpowers unfolds beyond the limits of Earth.
Six-wheeled, solar-powered and about 240 kilograms, the Chinese rover is looking to collect and analyze rock samples from the surface of Mars.
It is expected to spend about three months there.
The launch of the Chinese Mars probe Tianwen-1 that carried the rover last July was an important milestone in the Chinese space program.
The spacecraft entered Mars orbit in February, and after days of silence, state media announced it had reached its “crucial touchdown phase” on Friday.
The complicated landing process is called the “seven minutes of terror” because it happens faster than radio signals can reach Earth from Mars, meaning communication is limited.
Several US, Russian and European attempts to land land rovers on Mars have failed in the past, most recently in 2016 with the emergency landing of the joint Russian-European spacecraft Schiaparelli.
The last successful arrival came in February, when the US space agency NASA landed its rover Perseverance, which has since explored the planet.
The American rover launched a small robotic helicopter on Mars, the first-ever powered flight on another planet.
The country has come a long way in its race to catch up with the United States and Russia, whose astronauts and cosmonauts have decades of space exploration experience.
China successfully launched the first module of its new space station last month in hopes that it would be manned by 2022 and eventually send humans to the moon.
Last week, part of China’s Long March 5B missile disintegrated over the Indian Ocean in an uncontrolled landing back to Earth.
That drew criticism from the United States and other countries for a violation of the etiquette governing the return of space debris to Earth, with officials saying the remains had the potential to endanger lives and property.