China’s Mars probe sends back its first photos of the Red Planet

  • TECH
  • Thursday, 20 May 2021

A screen broadcasts a CCTV state media news bulletin, showing an animation of the lander and the rover of China's Mars probe Tianwen-1. — Reuters

China has released the first photographs and video from its Mars probe, four days after the spacecraft landed on the Red Planet.

The first photograph, a black and white image, was taken by an obstacle avoidance camera installed in front of the Mars rover, the China National Space Administration said in a statement on its website. The image shows a ramp on the lander has been extended to the planet’s surface.

The terrain in front of the rover is clearly visible in the image, while the horizon appears curved because of the camera’s wide-angle lens.

The second image, in color, was taken by the navigation camera fitted to the rear of the rover. The rover’s solar panels and antenna are seen unfolded, and the red soil and rocks on the Martian surface are clearly visible.

The landing module from the Tianwen-1, which has been in orbit since February, touched down on Utopia Planitia, a large plain in the northern hemisphere of Mars on Saturday, according to reports by state media CCTV.

The lander was carrying the Zhurong rover, named after an ancient Chinese god of fire, which will explore the surface near the landing site. China is only the second country after the US to send a rover to Mars. The rover, which weighs 240 kilograms, can last three Martian months, about 92 days on Earth.

The probe also sent back a video taken by a camera on the orbiter, showing how the lander and the rover separated from the orbiter during landing.

NASA’s Viking 2 visited Utopia Planitia in 1976, a few months after its twin, Viking 1, made history as the first probe to land safely on the planet.

The US space agency has sent several missions since then and its latest, the Perseverance rover, has been on the surface since Feb 18. On April 19, the US space program became the first to fly an aircraft, the Ingenuity helicopter, on another planet.

The Mars rover could provide a public-relations boost to President Xi Jinping’s government following the crash of debris from a Chinese rocket in early May that raised alarms worldwide about the secrecy of the country’s space program. – Bloomberg

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