China has finally picked a name for the rover aboard its Tianwen-1 probe that arrived in orbit around the Red Planet on February 24. The rover is currently scheduled to be placed on the surface of Mars in May and is tasked with looking for evidence of ancient life. Chinese authorities have chosen a name for the rover, and that name is Zhurong.
Zhurong is the traditional Chinese fire god. The rover’s name fits well with the Chinese name for Mars, “Huo Xing,” which means fire star. China National Space Administration deputy administrator Wu Yanhua said that the name signifies igniting the flame of planetary exploration by China. Currently, the number one choice for a landing site for the Zhurong rover is a location called Utopia Planitia.
That is the same location where NASA’s Viking 2 touched down in 1976. The stated goal of the mission is to analyze and map the Martian surface and geology while searching for water ice and studying the climate and surface environment. If China is successful in placing its rover on the surface of Mars, it will become only the third nation to do so.
Currently, only the former Soviet Union and the US have placed rovers on Mars. Multiple space agencies are searching for life or at least evidence of past life on Mars. Scientists know the Red Planet once had liquid water, including rivers and lakes on its surface and a much thicker atmosphere.
The US has explored Mars more than any other country to date. Most recently, NASA successfully conducted a test flight for the Ingenuity helicopter on the surface of Mars and has plans for more testing in the future. The first controlled flight on another planet could represent a game-changer in exploration in the future.