China has successfully landed a space vehicle on Mars for the first time Saturday, in the latest advance for the country's ambitious goals in space exploration.
Called Tianwen-1, or "questions to heaven," the mission is the first to send a spacecraft into Martian orbit, drop a landing platform onto the planet's surface, and deploy a rover all in one expedition -- a technically challenging feat more difficult than a moon landing, BBC reported.
China's first landing on the red planet follows its launch of the main section last month of what will be a permanent space station and a mission that brought back rocks from the moon in late 2020.
The rover, named after the Chinese god of fire Zhurong, will stay in the lander for several days to undergo diagnostics tests before the six-wheeled rover rolls down the two-track ramp to start exploring for signs of life.
"China has left a footprint on Mars for the first time, an important step for our country's space exploration," The Associated Press quoted China's state-run Xinhua News Agency as saying in one of its social media accounts.
The landing is a triumph for China's increasingly bold space ambitions and a history-making achievement for a country on its first-ever Martian mission. Only the United States has really mastered landing on Mars until now. With this landing, China becomes the second nation to put a rover on Mars, according to the BBC.
Tianwen-1 launched in July last year and the spacecraft entered the Martian orbit in February. Landing was "the most challenging part of the mission," the China National Space Administration previously said.
China's President, Xi Jinping, sent his "warm congratulations and sincere greetings to all members who have participated in the Mars exploration mission," Xinhua News Agency said.
China's rover looks a lot like NASA's Spirit and Opportunity vehicles from the 2000s. It weighs around 240 kilograms and is powered by fold-out solar panels. The current distance to Mars is 320 million kilometers, which means radio messages take nearly 20 minutes to reach Earth.