China became the world’s second nation to deploy a vehicle on the surface of Mars when a solar-powered rover began an exploration for potential evidence of life.
China is the only country to have successfully orbited, landed and deployed a land vehicle on its debut Mars mission, according to Reuters. Zhurong, which is named after the Chinese god of fire, is equipped with ground-penetrative radar and a topography camera for a mission that is scheduled for 90 days. Other solar-powered rovers have survived for longer.
The Chinese rover is situated on Utopia Planitia, a plain on Mars that scientists see as a relatively smooth spot for a first landing. The United States has previously used the basin to land a mission.
NASA Administrator Bill Nelson congratulated China on the Zhurong landing last week. In testimony before a House subcommittee on Wednesday, he used its example to urge Congress to “get serious” about investing in space, SpaceNews reported.
NASA operates three landed missions on Mars, as well as a helicopter that will soon make its sixth flight on the planet. The European Space Agency and its Russian counterpart, the Roscosmos Space Corporation, plan to jointly land a rover on Mars next year.
Beijing was heavily criticized earlier this month after debris from a Chinese rocket fell into the Indian Ocean near the Maldives. There were concerns at the time that parts from the Long March rocket might fall over populated areas; there were no reports of significant damage.