China managed to land a spacecraft on Mars for the first time, as part of the latest advancements in its space program. The official Xinhua news agency said Saturday (local time) that the lander had landed, citing the China National Space Administration.
As planned, the rolling probe will remain on the lander for diagnostic testing for a few days before heading down a slope to explore an ice-covered area on Mars known as Utopia Planitia. The Chinese probe joins another US probe that arrived on the red planet in February.
China’s first landing on Mars follows the launch last month of the main body of what will become a permanent space station and a mission that returned rocks from the moon late last year.
“China has left a footprint on Mars for the first time, an important step for space exploration in our country,” Xinhua said when he announced the landing on one of his social media accounts.
The United States has had nine successful landings on Mars since 1976. The Soviet Union landed on the planet in 1971, but the mission failed after the spacecraft stopped transmitting information shortly after landing.
A probe and small US helicopter that landed in February are currently exploring Mars. NASA expects the rover to collect its first sample in July and return to Earth in ten years.
China had already managed to land a probe on the moon, but that on Mars is a much more difficult operation because that planet has an extremely thin atmosphere.
Ships must use protective shields due to the intense heat entering the atmosphere, as well as retro missiles and parachutes to slow down to prevent them from falling to the surface. The parachutes and missiles must be activated at the right times to land at the designated place.
To descend on the Moon, only mini rocket ships are needed, and parachutes are enough to return to Earth, as it has a much denser atmosphere.