Chinese Mars rover send back first photos

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Four days after landing a spacecraft on Mars, China’s space agency released its first photographs from the red planet on Wednesday, announcing that the mission was going as planned.

The four-day wait for the images — one in color, one in black and white, as well as a pair of small video clips — had prompted speculation that something might have gone wrong with the landing on Saturday. When China’s space agency issued a statement in response to those concerns on Tuesday, urging patience, the response online was biting.

The Zhurong rover was carried into the Martian atmosphere in a lander on Saturday, in the first ever successful probe landing by any country on its first Mars mission.

Zhurong, named after a mythical Chinese fire god, arrived a few months behind the United States’ latest probe to Mars—Perseverance—and has been celebrated in China as a milestone in its ascent to space superpower status.

The forward view shows the landscape ahead of the robot as it sits on its landing platform; the rear-looking image reveals Zhurong’s solar panels.

The rover touched down on the Red Planet early on Sunday, Beijing time.

In doing so, it made China only the second nation – after America – to successfully put a probe on the surface of Mars and operate it for a significant length of time.

Chinese scientists hope to get at least 90 Martian days of service out of the six-wheeled robot at its location on Utopia Planitia, a vast terrain in the planet’s northern hemisphere.

As a bonus, CNSA also released small video GIFs of the lander and rover separating from the orbiter during the landing process. Those views are reminiscent of the exciting delivery of NASA’s Perseverance rover to Mars in February.

With Zhurong up and running, that means there are now three functioning rovers on Mars: NASA’s Curiosity and Perseverance and China’s rover. Zhurong will be investigating Utopia Planitia, which may be hiding a trove of buried ice. 

The first images are a strong start for Zhurong. Science has the potential to be even more exciting.

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