Chinese rover images show the rocky and dusty surface of Mars

BEIJING (AFP) – The dusty, rocky surface of Mars is seen alongside a Chinese rover and lander carrying small national flags in images released Friday taken on the Red Planet.

The four images released by the China National Space Administration also show the upper stage of the Zhurong rover and the view from the craft before it leaves its platform.

The agency said Zurong placed a camera about 10 meters (33 feet) from the landing platform, then pulled out to take a group photo.

China landed the Tianwen-1 spacecraft on Mars last month after spending about three months orbiting the Red Planet. China is the second country to land and operate a spacecraft on Mars after the United States.

Both the orbiter and spacecraft display small Chinese flags, and the probe features mascots for the Beijing 2022 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games.

The six-wheeled rover is exploring an area known as Utopia Planitia, looking specifically for signs of water or ice that could give clues as to whether Mars supports life.

With a height of 1.85 meters (6 feet), the Zhurong is much smaller than the persistent American rover that is exploring the planet in a small helicopter. NASA expects its rover to take its first sample in July to return to Earth as early as 2031.

In addition to the mission to Mars, China’s ambitious space program plans to send its first crew to its new space station next week. The three crew members plan to stay at Tianhe Station, or Heavenly Harmony, for three months, far exceeding the duration of any previous Chinese mission. They will conduct spacewalks, construction and maintenance work, and conduct science experiments.

Subsequent launches are planned to expand the station, dispatch supplies, and exchange crews. China has also returned lunar samples, a first from a country’s space program since the 1970s, and has landed a probe and rover on the far side of the less explored moon.

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