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First images from China’s Mars rover might take awhile to reach Earth

China Mars rover Zhurong makes historic landing on the red planet

Mars rover Zhurong

Zhurong, seen here in an illustration, safely touched down on the surface of Mars.


China’s Zhurong rover touched down on the surface of Mars over the weekend, marking a new milestone for the country’s space program. But we may face a bit of a wait before we see the rover’s first views of Mars. 

The China National Space Administration issued a statement in English on Monday confirming the landing, which is part of the Tianwen-1 mission, China’s first attempt to reach the surface of another planet. CNSA Deputy Director Wu Yanhua told the state-run China Daily Zhurong will perform diagnostics and move off its landing platform in the next few days, and that its first photos are expected around the end of May.

CNSA behaves very differently from NASA. When NASA’s Perseverance rover landed in February, space fans were quickly treated to the rover’s first views of Mars. CNSA tends to play its cards closer to the vest. 

While some space fans on social media have expressed concern about a lack of images from Zhurong, journalist Andrew Jones — who covers China’s space program for SpaceNews — suggested on Twitter the delay may be due in part to the fact that this is China’s first rover on the red planet.

There’s no reason to fret about the health of the rover yet. Communications between Mars and Earth can be tricky and time-consuming. China’s Tianwen-1 spacecraft is in orbit around the planet and will act as a relay for the rover. 

The landing is one more feather in China’s space cap, which in recent years has included landing the Chang’e 4 mission on the far side of the moon, returning moon rocks to Earth via the Chang’e 5 mission and launching the core module of a new space station in April. 

While it would be nice to get photos more quickly, any images Zhurong sends back of its new home in the large plains area of Utopia Planitia will be worth the wait. In the meantime, you can enjoy the Tianwen-1 spacecraft’s wider view of Mars.

Follow CNET’s 2021 Space Calendar to stay up to date with all the latest space news this year. You can even add it to your own Google Calendar.      

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