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China’s maiden program on the red planet a success

August 26, 2021 6:30PM AP

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New images taken by China's first Mars rover Zhurong are unveiled in the capital Beijing on June 11, marking the success of China's first Mars exploration mission. Picture: Jin Liwang/Xinhua via Getty Images. media_cameraNew images taken by China's first Mars rover Zhurong are unveiled in the capital Beijing on June 11, marking the success of China's first Mars exploration mission. Picture: Jin Liwang/Xinhua via Getty Images.

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China’s Mars rover, Zhurong, remains on the move after finishing its first program to explore the red planet. Part of Zhurong’s mission was looking for frozen water, in the hope of finding clues about whether Mars once supported life.

China’s National Space Administration confirmed on its website that Zhurong completed its 90-day program on August 15 and was in excellent technical condition and fully charged.

It said it would continue to explore the large area known as Utopia Planitia, where it landed on May 14. Zhurong has been sending back photos and data regularly via the Tianwen-1 orbiter that crosses over it once a day.

media_cameraA February 2021 image of Mars as captured by China’s Mars probe Tianwen-1. Picture: China National Space Administration/AFP

After the United States, China is the second country to land and sustainably operate a spacecraft on Mars, where days are 40 minutes longer than on Earth.

At 1.85m in height, Zhurong is significantly smaller than the American Perseverance rover, which is exploring the planet with a tiny helicopter. NASA expects its rover to collect its first sample in July next year, for return to Earth as early as 2031.

media_cameraAmerica’s Mars rover Perseverance is significantly larger than China’s rover Zhurong and is travelling Mars with a small helicopter. Picture: AFP Photo/NASA.

At the same time, China is building its permanent space station, with three astronauts now aboard the Tianhe core, also known as Heavenly Harmony, that was put into orbit on April 29. Two of the astronauts completed their second space walk on August 20. All three are due to return to Earth in September and will be replaced by a new crew.

China earlier launched two smaller experimental* space stations. Historically, China has been kept out of the International Space Station, largely at the insistence* of the United States, which is wary* of the Chinese space program’s secrecy and close military links. US congressional* approval is also required for any co-operation between NASA and the CNSA.

China also recently brought back lunar* samples, the first by any country’s space program since the 1970s, and has landed a probe and rover on the Moon’s less explored far side.

China first put an astronaut into orbit in 2003, becoming just the third country in history to do so.

GLOSSARY

  • sustainably: done in a way that can be maintained at a set rate or level
  • experimental: based on untested ideas or techniques
  • insistence: instructing, requiring, demanding
  • wary: showing caution, uncertainty, suspicion
  • congressional: relating to the national legislative body in the US
  • lunar: of or relating to the moon

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QUICK QUIZ

  1. What is the name of China’s rover?
  2. Why was part of the rover’s program to look for water?
  3. How many more minutes are there in a Mars day than here on Earth?
  4. Why has China been kept out of the International Space Station?
  5. How many countries throughout history have put an astronaut into orbit?

LISTEN TO THIS STORY

CLASSROOM ACTIVITIES
1. Rover Prototype
Use some classroom materials to design and build your own mini Mars Rover. Use items such as plasticine, toothpicks, wire, Lego pieces, paper, tape and see what you can come up with. Draw your design first and then make your mini model. Explain your model to the class and give each other feedback.

Time: allow 45 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English; Design and Technologies; Critical and Creative Thinking

2. Extension
What would be the advantages and disadvantages of China and NASA working together rather than keeping their discoveries and plans to their own agencies?

Time: allow 15 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English; Science

VCOP ACTIVITY
Go for a drive on Mars
The space rovers are worth millions of dollars, so it’s probably pretty unlikely they are going to let you have a test drive … but what if they decided to make mini rovers for us to drive like a drone?

Strap on your VR headset too, as we’ll make sure they equip the mini rovers with 360 degree cameras as well, so you can really immerse yourself in the experience.

Imagine you have been selected as the test driver for the new mini rover explorer program.

Write a descriptive paragraph about your epic five minute drive around Mars. Just watch out for any rocks or holes – the last thing you want to report is that you crashed.

Remember to use VCOP to create a lot of voice and imagery in your piece.

Read over your work when you have finished to make sure it make sense, and you have included all the punctuation needed in the piece.

Extra Reading in space