A Chinese spacecraft successfully landed on the surface of Mars on Saturday morning, marking a historic accomplishment in China's space endeavours and making it the second country in the world to successfully land on the Red Planet.
The lander, carrying a Mars rover, touched down at its pre-selected landing area in the southern part of Utopia Planitia, a vast plain on the northern hemisphere of Mars, at 7:18 am (Beijing Time), the China National Space Administration (CNSA) announced. However CNSA have yet to release any images confirming the successful landing.
China's first Mars rover is named Zhurong after the god of fire in ancient Chinese mythology, which echoes with the Chinese name of the red planet: Huoxing (the planet of fire).
President Xi Jinping, who is also general secretary of the Communist Party of China Central Committee and chairman of the Central Military Commission, sent a letter soon after the successful landing was announced at the Beijing Aerospace Control Center, extending congratulations and greetings to all those involved in the landmark mission.
The letter read that the Tianwen 1 mission has left the nation's first mark on the Red Planet and is another landmark achievement in the development of China's space industry.
"Thanks to your courage in the face of challenges and pursuit of excellence, China is now among the leading countries in planetary exploration," Xi said in the message. "The country and people will always remember your outstanding achievements."
He encouraged those involved to continue working hard in the mission's next steps.
Vice-Premiers Han Zheng and Liu He were at the Beijing Aerospace Control Center in the capital's northwestern suburbs on Saturday morning and met those involved in the landing operation after Xi's letter was read.
The touchdown of Tianwen 1 on Mars was the latest example of China's rapidly expanding presence in outer space, following a string of recent accomplishments that include putting the first section of the country's permanent space station into orbit, returning the first lunar samples to Earth in more than four decades and completing a global navigation satellite network.
"Each and every step during the entry, descent and landing processes was executed with perfect accuracy," Wu Yanhua, deputy director of the China National Space Administration, told China Daily at the Beijing Aerospace Control Center after the spacecraft's touchdown.
Wu said that more than half of the over 20 Mars landing attempts made by spacefaring nations so far failed due to the exceptionally difficult nature of such maneuvers.
Zhurong will move from its landing module onto the Martian soil to begin scientific surveys, the official said, adding that the first photos to be taken by the rover are expected to be transferred back to Earth around the end of this month.
Geng Yan, a senior planner for China's deep-space exploration programs at the space administration, said Saturday's landing was a serious test for the country's capabilities in science, technology and engineering.
"Such a challenging attempt is characterized by a succession of complex activities that must be conducted completely by the spacecraft within a very short period of time," he said. "What added to the difficulties was that we don't know much about the Martian atmosphere, which brought a lot of uncertainties to the mission."