For many years, the 'space race'—sending craft to explore the cosmos and other worlds—was about two competing nations.
The United States and the Soviet Union (now Russia).
But today, the Americans and the Russians have gone from rivals to partners (at least in the space exploration). And what was once a field of two has expanded to include many players: Japan, The European Space Agency, India, The United Arab Emirates.
But no country or group has come so far so fast as China. Since sending their astronaut to space in 2003, the China National Space Administration (CNSA) has grown big time, becoming nearly as active as NASA. In the last few years, they visited the Moon a few times, including sending the first rover to the Moon's dark side.
And on May 15, they reached even further and landed a rover on Mars!
Now that rover—called Zhurong, which is the name of a fire god—has sent back its first photo of the Red Planet. Let's take a look!
China says hello to new era
Zhurong landed on the Utopia Planitia. This is vast open plain in the northern hemisphere of the planet. It was actually the landing site of one of the first humans sent to Mars—NASA's Viking 2 in 1976.
Zhurong is, of course, far more advanced than that probe was. And it has sent back the high quality pictures to prove it.
We have a Hi-Res visual! This is #Zhurong (#Tianwen1) Mars Rover reporting to Earthlings! I’m currently at 109.9E, 25.1N, Utopia Planitia, Mars. All look good! Preparing for the final deployment and scientific missions. Water/Ice under Mars 100m-deep surface? About to find out! pic.twitter.com/xkh39C2y3n
— Chinese Zhurong Mars Rover (@MarsZhurong) May 19, 2021
These images show front view of the rover (black and white image), as well as the vehicle's solar panels being laid out, giving it power (colour image). The tweet also talks about one of the purposes of the mission—to explore for further evidence of underground water and ice.
Zhurong is just the latest example of how quickly China has caught up in the field of space exploration. This rover makes China the first country to successfully land a probe on Mars on its first try. And it is now the only country, other than the US, to land a probe on Mars and have it stay operational for a long period of time. So this alone is a really huge achievement that many other space exploring nations haven't matched.
And this is not the only place that China is exploring. They have also started launching modules for their own space station orbiting Earth, similar to the International Space Station (ISS). That station could receive its first crew as early as next year. So are we in the middle of a new space race?