• Kyodo

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China’s first-ever Mars rover on Saturday drove down the ramp of a landing capsule leaving China’s first “footprints” on the red planet, state-run media reported, and becoming the second country to land and operate a rover on the planet after the United States.

The rover, called Zhurong, set its wheels on Martian soil at 10:40 a.m. Beijing time Saturday and began roaming the planet, the media quoted the China National Space Administration as saying.

The six-wheeled solar-powered rover is expected to have a lifespan of about three months and will record the Martian landscape with high-resolution images, analyze the planet’s material composition and search for traces of water ice, among other tasks, Xinhua News Agency reported.

Earlier this month, China became the third nation to safely land an unmanned probe on the planet’s surface after the Soviet Union and the United States, with Beijing saying Wednesday that the country’s space authorities had received photos from Mars.

NASA has landed nine craft on Mars since 1976. The Soviet probe touched down on the planet in 1971, but communication is believed to have been lost soon after.

With President Xi Jinping pledging to make China a “space power,” Beijing will study the soil and atmosphere on Mars and survey whether there is groundwater as it looks for signs of possible ancient life.

China’s largest carrier rocket, the Long March 5 Y-4, blasted off with the Tianwen-1 Mars probe from a launch site on the coast of the southern island province of Hainan in July 2020. It entered the orbit of the planet in February.

In late April, meanwhile, China launched the core module of its first space station. The move followed the return to Earth last year of an unmanned Chinese space probe with the first lunar soil samples taken in 44 years.

As China and the United States have been at odds over several security and economic issues, competition in space between the world’s two major powers has also been intensifying.

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