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China's solar-powered Mars rover is now driving on the red planet

China lands a rover on Mars
China lands a rover on Mars 05:40

China's first Mars rover has driven down from its landing platform and is now roaming the surface of the red planet, China's space administration said Saturday. The solar-powered rover touched Martian soil at 10:40 a.m. Saturday Beijing time, the China National Space Administration said.

China landed the spacecraft carrying the rover on Mars last Saturday, a technically challenging feat more difficult than a moon landing, in a first for the country. It is the second country to do so, after the United States.

Named after the Chinese god of fire, Zhurong, the rover has been running diagnostics tests for several days before it began its exploration Saturday. It is expected to be deployed for 90 days to search of evidence of life.

The U.S. also has an ongoing Mars mission, with the Perseverance rover and a tiny helicopter exploring the planet. NASA expects the rover to collect its first sample in July for return to Earth as early as 2031.

China has ambitious space plans that include launching a crewed orbital station and landing a human on the moon. China in 2019 became the first country to land a space probe on the little-explored far side of the moon, and in December returned lunar rocks to Earth for the first time since the 1970s.

Holding up a photo taken by China's Mars lander, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson warned Congress this week that his agency faces increasingly stiff competition on the high frontier and that sustained funding for a new moon lander, infrastructure upgrades and other critical programs is vital for America's space program.

In his first congressional appearance since being confirmed by the Senate, Nelson, a former lawmaker who flew aboard a space shuttle in 1986, told a House appropriations subcommittee that China plans to send multiple landers to the south pole of the moon in the not-too-distant future, the same area NASA is targeting in its Artemis program.

Bill Harwood contributed to this report.

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