China’s remote-controlled robot, which landed on Mars a month ago, has driven down from its landing point to the surface of the red planet.
This makes China the first country after the US to operate a robot there.
The Zhurong robot is expected to study the planet’s atmosphere and surface rocks. It will also search for signs of life, including any subsurface ice or water.
China’s Tianwen-1 mission, consisting of a lander, rover and orbiter, was launched in July last year.
Zhang Yuhua, the chief commander of the mission, said the robot was designed to operate for 92 Earth days and would share its data via the orbiter.
“We believe we can get a comprehensive coverage of Martian landform, environment and topography, and the exploratory data of the radar detecting the red planet’s subsurface during one Martian year,” she said.
“If that goes well, our country will have our won first-hand and abundant data about Martian resources.”
The solar-powered, 240 kg six-wheeled rover- called after a Chinese mythical god- will be investigating Utopia Planitia in Mars’ northern hemisphere.
This massive depression- more than 3,000km wide- was probably formed by an impact early in the planet’s history. There are some signs pointing to it having held an ocean long ago.
Active remote sensing by satellites reveals there are significant stores of ice at depth.
Utopia Planitia is the place where NASA landed its Viking-2 rover in 1976.
The United States landed the much larger Perseverance rover in February, and its exploring mission is also just getting underway.
Europe’s space agency will send a rover named Rosalind Franklin to Mars in a joint mission with Russia next year. Europe has failed twice with landing attempts on Mars.