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Photos show Chinese rover on dusty and rocky Martian surface

BEIJING (AP) – The dusty and rocky Martian surface along with a Chinese rover and lander bearing small national flags were seen in photos released Friday that the rover took on the Red Planet.

The four images released by China’s National Space Administration also show the top stage of the Zhurong rover and the view from the rover before it leaves its platform.

Zhurong placed a distant camera about 10 meters (33 feet) from the landing pad, then withdrew to take a group portrait, CNSA said.

China landed the Tianwen-1 spacecraft carrying the rover on Mars last month after spending about three months orbiting the Red Planet. China is the second country to land and operate a spacecraft on Mars, after the United States.

The orbiter and lander both display small Chinese flags, and the lander has the contours of the Beijing 2022 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games mascots.

The six-wheeled rover surveys an area known as the Utopia Planitia, particularly looking for signs of water or ice that could give clues as to whether Mars ever supported life.

At 1.85 meters (6 feet) tall, Zhurong is significantly smaller than the American rover Perseverance which explores the planet with a small helicopter. NASA expects its rover to take its first sample in July for a return to Earth as early as 2031.

In addition to the mission to Mars, China’s ambitious space program plans to send the first crew to its new space station next week. The three crew members plan to stay at Tianhe Station, or Heavenly Harmony, for three months, far exceeding the duration of any previous Chinese mission. They will conduct spacewalks, construction and maintenance work, and conduct science experiments.

Subsequent launches are planned to expand the station, send supplies, and exchange crews. China also brought back lunar samples, the first from a country’s space program since the 1970s, landed a probe and a rover on the less explored far side of the moon.

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