The state-run Xinhua News Agency said on Saturday that the lander had landed, citing China’s National Space Administration. Plans call for a rover to stay in the lander for a few days of diagnostic testing before descending a ramp to explore an icy area of Mars known as Utopia Planitia. He will join an American who arrived on the Red Planet in February.
China’s first Mars landing follows the launch last month of the main section of what will be a permanent space station and a mission that brought rocks back from the moon late last year.
“China left a footprint on Mars for the first time, a milestone for our country’s space exploration,” Xinhua said, announcing the landing on one of its social media accounts.
The United States has had nine successful landings on Mars since 1976. The Soviet Union landed on the planet in 1971, but the mission failed after the craft stopped transmitting information shortly after touchdown. .
A rover and a small helicopter from the US landing in February are currently exploring Mars. NASA expects the rover to collect its first sample in July for a return to Earth in a decade.
China has landed on the moon before, but landing on Mars is a much more difficult undertaking because the atmosphere is extremely thin.
Spacecraft must use heat shields to shield themselves from the searing heat of reentry and retro-rockets and parachutes slow enough to prevent a crash landing. Parachutes and rockets must be deployed at specific times to land at the designated location.
Only retro mini rockets are needed for a moon landing, and parachutes alone are enough to return to Earth, which has a much larger atmosphere.