China recently made history by successfully landing a spaceship on Mars. The event was an important step in China's space program and kicked off a new international exploration effort on the Red Planet.
China's official Xinhua news agency announced the landing on May 15. “China left a footprint on Mars for the first time, an important step in our country's space exploration,” it said.
China's space program had already completed several successful unpiloted ones Missions to the moon. The country's last spaceship to land there successfully collected material from the lunar surface. It was the first time in more than 40 years that a nation had collected lunar material to return to Earth.
Landing a spacecraft on Mars is much more difficult than landing on the moon, however. The vehicles require special equipment to protect themselves from the extreme heat of the Martian atmosphere. The spaceship also needs special missiles to slow its speed and parachutes deployed at just the right time to prevent crash landings.
Historically, there have been many crash landings on Mars. To date, only three nations – the United States, China, and the Soviet Union (USSR) – have successfully landed spaceships.
The US has had nine successful Mars landings since 1976. This includes the most recent mission Involvement of the Perseverance Explorer or Rover of the US space agency NASA. The USSR Mars 3 spacecraft landed safely in 1971. However, that mission ended seconds later when the spaceship's instruments failed.
Other spaceships are currently in orbit around Mars. One was launched by the United Arab Emirates and arrived in February. The Emirates Mars Mission examines the atmospheric conditions of Mars from an extremely high orbit. Three other orbiting spaceships belong to the United States, two are Europeans and one is from India.
China's Tianwen-1 spacecraft, which includes an orbiter, lander, and rover, spent seven months traveling to Mars. It landed in Utopia Planitia, a large flat area in the northern half of the planet.
His rover Zhurong was named after the Chinese god of fire. The six-wheeled vehicle is solar powered and weighs 240 kilograms, Xinhua reported. It has multiple cameras and other instruments that use radar laser and sensors for measuring atmospheric conditions and magnetic forces.
Zhurong is supposed to study the soil and the atmosphere of the planet. Like NASA rovers, both past and present, it will also check for signs of ancient life, including ice and other water beneath the planet's surface. Data collected by Zhurong will be sent back to Earth via the Tianwen-1 orbiter. Last week China released the first images of the rover from Mars.
Roberto Orosei is a planetologist at the Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bologna, Italy. He told Nature an important part of the mission could help corroborate previous studies suggesting the presence of Permafrost in the Utopia Planitia area.
The studies found evidence that permafrost might hide just below the surface. The rover's ground-searching radar equipment could detect signs of this permafrost, Orosei said.
Understanding the depth of such a permafrost and learning more about its formation can provide you with new information about recent climate changes on Mars. Scientists are trying to understand what happened to the ancient water they believe covered the surface, Orosei added.
NASA administrator Bill Nelson praised China's successful landing on Mars.
“As the international scientific community of robotic researchers grows on Mars, the United States and the world look forward to the discoveries Zhurong will make ahead mankind's knowledge of the Red Planet, ”was his explanation. “I look forward to future international discoveries that will help inform and develop the information Skills human boots had to land on Mars, ”added Nelson.
I am Bryan Lynn.
Bryan Lynn wrote this story for VOA Learning English, based on reports from Reuters, The Associated Press, Xinhua, Nature, and NASA. Caty Weaver was the editor.
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Words in this story
mission – n. a flight in an aircraft or spacecraft to perform a specific task
Permafrost – n. An area that is permanently frozen below the surface
ahead – v. To develop or to make progress
ability – n. the ability or strength to do something