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Perseverance, Hope and a fire god: a history of Mars rovers

By Team Lounge,

From Tianwen-1 to Curiosity, a look at the journey of different missions to reach the red planet.

Perseverance Mars rover, foreground, and the Ingenuity helicopter about 13 feet (3.9 meters) behind. Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS via AP

China's probe to Mars touched down on the Red Planet Saturday to deploy its Zhurong rover, during a busy time for Martian exploration. China, the US and hitherto space minnows the UAE have sent probes to the treacherous planet, where failure to land safely is more frequent than success.

China's Tianwen-1 probe successfully launched last July and entered Mars' orbit in February -- a major milestone for Beijing's ambitious space programme. The six-wheeled, solar-powered Zhurong -- named after the god of fire in ancient Chinese mythology -- is on a mission to collect rocks and data, and scan the surface.

Here is a look at how China's efforts to reach the red planet compare with those of other countries throughout history.

NASA's Perseverance earlier this year became the fifth rover to successfully land on Mars since 1997, launching shortly after China's Tianwen-1. It has a remit to hunt for signs of ancient microbial life on the Red Planet and in April flew a helicopter-drone on another world for the first time.

About the size of a small SUV, it weighs a metric ton and has 19 cameras and two microphones -- which scientists hope will be the first to record sound on Mars. Scientists hope the rover, equipped with its own oxygen-producing facilities, can help pave the way for future manned missions.

Recently, the toaster-sized instrument dubbed MOXIE, short for Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment, produced about 5 grams of oxygen, equivalent to roughly 10 minutes' worth of breathing for an astronaut, according to Nasa.

As a Reuters report explains, the feat marked the first experimental extraction of a natural resources from the environment of another planet for direct use by humans.

The Arab world's first mission to another planet successfully arrived in Mars' orbit in February, after it was launched by the United Arab Emirates last July. The spacecraft, which will remain high above the surface in orbit, is designed to further study Mars' atmosphere and how its climate has changed over time.

The European Space Agency and Russian space agency's ExoMars joint mission got off to a rocky start when its first phase, the Schiaparelli lander, spun out of control and crashed on Mars' surface in October 2016.

Named after a 19th-century Italian astronomer, the failed mission will pave the way for the second part of the ExoMars programme -- the Rosalind Franklin rover, set to launch in 2022.

NASA's flagship Curiosity rover -- of which Perseverance is an updated version -- remains active on Mars' surface after landing in 2012 in a spectacle watched by millions.

Charged with finding out whether Mars could have once supported life, the sophisticated car-sized rover has built on the work of its NASA predecessors and discovered further evidence of water previously on the planet's surface.

As of May, the rover has spent 3120 SOLS or Martian days on Mars. It is now studying Mars' geology and the history of its environment. To do this, it is climbing a five-kilometre-tall mountain in an ancient lakebed.

NASA's Opportunity, the longest-running Mars rover, reached the surface of the Red Planet in 2004, staying operational until 2018 when it was hit by a dust storm. It and its twin rover, Spirit, confirmed that there was once liquid water on Mars' arid surface.

Mars 2 and 3
After several failed Mars flyby and orbiter attempts between 1960 and 1971, two identical Soviet Union spacecraft finally reached the Red Planet in November and December 1971 -- only to both get swept up in a huge dust storm.

This occurred at the height of the Space Race, when the US and Soviet Union were competing to demonstrate superior spaceflight ability amid Cold War hostilities.

The earlier spacecraft, Mars 2, crashed upon landing after orbiting successfully for 18 hours, but Mars 3 landed successfully and operated for 20 seconds on the surface before it fell over.

Both spacecraft sent images, temperature readings and information about Mars' gravity and magnetic fields back to the Soviet Union.

(With inputs of AFP)

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