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China becomes first country after US to land spacecraft on Mars

China is celebrating after its scientists successfully managed to land its Zhurong rover on Mars (Picture: Rex)

China has become the first country after the US to land a spacecraft on Mars, state media has reported.

In a triumph for Beijing’s increasingly bold space ambitions, its Zhurong rover was deployed on a vast plain known as Utopia Planitia early on Saturday, state news agency Xinhua reported.

Chinese President Xi Jinping issued a message of congratulations to all the people involved in the mission.

‘You were brave enough for the challenge, pursued excellence and placed our country in the advanced ranks of planetary exploration,’ he said. ‘Your outstanding achievement will forever be etched in the memories of the motherland and the people.’

The lander carrying Zhurong completed the treacherous descent through the Martian atmosphere using a parachute to navigate the ‘seven minutes of terror’ as it is known.

It ‘successfully landed in the pre-selected area’, state broadcaster CCTV said, launching a special TV programme dedicated to the mission called ‘Nihao Mars’ (‘Hello Mars’).

It makes China the first country to carry out an orbiting, landing and roving operation during its first mission to Mars.

China has now sent astronauts into space, powered probes to the Moon and landed a rover on Mars.

A graphic simulated image shows China’s probe landing on Mars (Picture: Shutterstock)
Zhang Rongqiao, chief designer of China’s first Mars exploration mission, speaks at the Beijing Aerospace Control Center (Picture: Shutterstock)

Named after the Chinese god of fire, Zhurong, the rover will stay in the lander for diagnostics tests for several days before rolling down a ramp to begin exploring for signs of life.

It is expected to spend around three months there taking photos and harvesting geographical data.

Only the United States had previously successfully landed and operated a spacecraft on Mars – nine times, beginning with the twin Vikings in 1976 and, most recently, with the Perseverance rover in February.

Perseverance and a tiny helicopter are currently exploring Mars.Nasa expects the rover to collect its first sample in July for return to Earth in a decade.

Chinese President Xi Jinping issued a message of congratulations to all the people involved in the mission (Picture: Shutterstock)
Scientists faced a tense wait to see if their probe could navigate the ‘seven minutes of terror’ (Picture: AP)

A third spacecraft – named Hope – arrived at Mars in February this year – but is not designed to make a landing.

Launched by the United Arab Emirates, it is currently orbiting above Mars gathering data on its weather and atmosphere.

China is pursuing an ambitious space programme. It is testing reusable spacecraft and is also planning to establish manned lunar research station.

In a commentary published on Saturday, Xinhua said China was ‘not looking to compete for leadership in space’ but was committed to ‘unveiling the secrets of the universe and contributing to humanity’s peaceful use of space.’

Get in touch with our news team by emailing us at webnews@metro.co.uk.

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