China Lands Spacecraft on Mars for First Time, Plans Hook-up with US Vehicle

China has landed a spacecraft for its first time ever on Mars. The rover will eventually join with a U.S. rover that arrived on the planet in February.

The spacecraft landed on the planet on Saturday, according to the China National Space Administration (CNSA). The accomplishment makes China the second nation in the world's history to land a rover on Mars.

The rover is named Zhurong after the Chinese god of fire. It will remain in its landing pod for several days as it runs diagnostic tests to ensure it's functioning properly. Then, the rover will investigate an icy area on the planet known as Utopia Planitia, according to the Associated Press.

Both the U.S. and Chinese rover share the goals of mapping the area and searching the frozen plain for signs of life. Scientists from both countries may share their findings to develop future technologies and areas for further exploration.

China mars landing rover first spacecraft U.S.
China has landed a rover on Mars. The achievement marks the country's first-ever spacecraft to land on the planet. The rover will eventually meet with one from the United States. In this photo, a group of students walk past a model of a lander at "Mars Base 1", a C-Space Project, in the Gobi desert, some 40 kilometres from Jinchang in China's northwest Gansu province on April 17, 2019. Wang Zhao / AFP/Getty

"This is another milestone advance in our country's aerospace endeavors," China's President Xi Jinping told the CNSA after the rover's landing. "You have had the courage for challenge, have strove for excellence and have brought our country to the global forefront of interplanetary exploration."

Thomas Zurbuchen, the associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, tweeted in support of the CNSA after the rover's landing as well.

"Together with the global science community, I look forward to the important contributions this mission will make to humanity's understanding of the Red Planet," he wrote.

Congratulations to CNSA’s #Tianwen1 team for the successful landing of China’s first Mars exploration rover, #Zhurong! Together with the global science community, I look forward to the important contributions this mission will make to humanity’s understanding of the Red Planet. pic.twitter.com/KexElIu8OH

— Thomas Zurbuchen (@Dr_ThomasZ) May 15, 2021

The rover was released onto the planet as part of China's Tianwen-1 mission. The rover's shuttle launched in July 2020. The rover pod orbited the planet for several months before finally touching down on Friday evening.

The rover's landing is merely one part of China's rapidly advancing and ambitious space exploration program.

Last month, China set the main section of its still-developing space station into orbit. The 22.5-ton section—named Tianhe (Chinese for "harmony of heavens")—contains the station's control systems, life support and living quarters. The section is the biggest, heaviest spacecraft China has ever constructed.

The complete space station—named Tiangong ("heavenly palace")—will be a fifth of the size of the International Space Station and will host three crew members at a time.

On December 16, 2020, China's Chang'e 5 capsule returned to Earth carrying 3.81 pounds of moon rocks. The rocks came from Oceanus Procellarum, a dark plain of volcanic rock on the moon's western edge.

The rocks' return marked the end of China's initial three-step lunar exploration program, according to Space.com. The program sought to orbit the moon, land on it and return with samples. China wants to develop a robotic lunar research station near the Moon's south pole. One of its next steps towards that goal will involve sending a crewed mission to the moon by 2030.

The country is also actively constructing a new space telescope that it hopes to launch into orbit by 2024.

Newsweek contacted NASA for comment.