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On its first try, China's Zhurong rover hit a Mars milestone that took NASA decades –



This article was originally published at The Conversation. The publication contributed the article to’s Expert Voices: Op-Ed & Insights.

Sara Webb, PhD candidate in Astrophysics, Swinburne University of Technology

Rebecca Allen, Swinburne Space Office Project Coordinator | Manager Swinburne Astronomy Productions, Swinburne University of Technology

China’s Zhurong rover landed safely on Mars on May 15, making China only the third country to successfully land a rover on the red planet.

More impressively still, China is the first Mars-going nation to carry out an orbiting, landing and rovering operation as its first mission.

Planetary scientist Roberto Orosei told Nature China is “doing in a single go what NASA took decades to do,” while astrophysicist Jonathan McDowell described China’s decision to include a rover in its maiden Mars outing as a “very gutsy move.”

Related: Hear the 1st sounds from China’s Mars rover Zhurong and watch it drive in new video

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Where did it land?

Zhurong, named after the god of fire in Chinese mythology, separated from the Tianwen-1 orbiter and touched down close to the site of previous NASA missions, on a vast plain called Utopia Planitia.

This area of Mars was formed billions of years ago, when a martian meteorite smashed into the planet’s surface. The surrounding area is largely featureless, covered mostly in volcanic material.

Zhurong is not the first rover to explore this region. In 1976, NASA’s Viking 2 lander touched down further north within the Utopia Planitia basin, returning high-resolution images of the martian surface and analyzing soil samples.

The Viking 2 lander lacked the ability to investigate any further than its initial landing site. But the Zhurong rover should be well equipped to roam farther afield during its mission.

What will it do?

The mission’s three-month scientific program will begin once the Zhurong rover disembarks from the landing craft and begins its journey across the martian surface. The 240-kilogram, six-wheeled rover is equipped with six individual scientific instruments, and has four large solar panels, giving it the appearance of a “blue butterfly.”

Zhurong’s design, instruments and technology on board Zhurong are comparable to those on board NASA’s twin rovers Spirit and Opportunity, which touched down in January 2004. Although Zhurong is not at the cutting edge of current space exploration technology, the sheer speed of this program’s development since its initiation in 2006 is awe-inspiring.

Like the many Mars rovers before it, Zhurong will probe this alien planet’s environment, and search for signs of water ice on the surface.

The mission is expected to survey four aspects of its local environment:

  • topography and geological structure
  • soil structure and possible presence of water ice
  • chemical composition, minerals and rock types
  • physical characteristics of the atmosphere and the rocky surface.

Zhurong will thus help build a more complete geological picture of the Red Planet’s history. And, in a genuine first for Martian exploration, it is equipped with a magnetometer to measure the planet’s magnetic field. This is an important study that will help address why Mars has lost much of its atmosphere, leaving its landscape so barren.

China’s growing space presence

The Tianwen-1 mission is just one of an impressive list of accomplishments by the China National Space Administration in the past year. Its other feats include launching dozens of Long March rockets, each with multiple payloads, including that of the Chang’e 5 lunar probe, which brought moon rocks back to Earth for the first time since the end of NASA’s Apollo program in the 1970s.

Last month, China launched the first stage of its Tiangong space station, which next year is set to become the world’s second long-term home for humans in space. The momentous launch didn’t go off without a hitch, however, as debris from the launch vehicle made an uncontrolled re-entry back to Earth, eventually splashing down in the Indian Ocean.

Thankfully no one was hurt in that incident, but it is a timely reminder that China’s accelerating pace of space missions and rocket launches need to be carefully managed.

This year of activity has solidified China’s powerful presence in space, and we are only seeing the beginning of its ambitious future. By 2045, China hopes to become a leading space power, as outlined in the 2018 Aerospace Science and Technology Corporations route map.

In the coming years we can look forward to seeing China launch crewed missions to the Tiangong space station, and in the coming decades can expect to see China join other spacefaring nations in missions back to the moon and Mars.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Follow all of the Expert Voices issues and debates — and become part of the discussion — on Facebook and Twitter. The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the publisher. 

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Memorial event in Prince Rupert harbour to draw attention to tugboat safety – Vancouver Sun



Since 2016, there have been 350 accidents involving tugboats or barges in B.C., including 24 sinkings and two fatalities, according to data collected by the TSB.

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More than 20 boats, including ferries, fishing vessels and tugboats, are expected to take part in a memorial event in the Prince Rupert harbour this month in honour of a tugboat captain who died at sea.


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Troy Pearson lost his life on Feb. 11 when the tugboat he was captaining sank in the Gardner Canal en route from Kitimat to Kemano. Also killed was 25-year-old Charley Cragg, a Tsawwassen man who had recently moved to Terrace and was working his first shift on the boat. A third man, 19-year-old Zac Dolan, was rescued after he made it to shore.

The event is being planned for July 31 by Pearson’s widow, Judy Carlick-Pearson, who originally intended to scatter Pearson’s ashes in the harbour a few weeks after his birthday.

“Next thing you know, we had people from the coast guard saying they wanted to be here, as well as guys from the ferries, fishing boats, commercial tugs and the marine union,” she said.

Carlick-Pearson is hoping the event, which will involve the boats forming a wide circle in the harbour while eight bells sound to signal the end of the watch, will bring attention to the continuing investigation into the sinking of the tugboat Ingenika.


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Troy Pearson and wife Judy Carlick-Pearson.
Troy Pearson and wife Judy Carlick-Pearson. Photo by Submitted photo /PNG
Charley Cragg.
Charley Cragg. Photo by Arlen Redekop /PNG

On Feb. 10 — a day on which 11 cold temperature records were broken as B.C. was hit by an Arctic outflow — Pearson, Cragg and Dolan boarded the tugboat despite a forecast of 50-knot winds. The boat, which belonged to Wainwright Marine Services, was towing a barge carrying construction supplies for a multi-year Rio Tinto tunnel project at Kemano designed to guarantee a stable supply of hydroelectric power to the company’s Kitimat aluminum smelter.

RCMP Cpl. Madonna Saunderson said that just after midnight on Feb. 11, an emergency beacon was received from a tugboat in the Gardner Canal. The RCMP vessel Inkster was dispatched from Hartley Bay and found a man dead in the water. The coast guard found a second dead man. A third person was rescued after reaching shore.


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Reached Friday, Saunderson said the RCMP’s investigation into the tugboat sinking comtinues. The Transportation Safety Board said its investigation is still underway as well, with nothing new to say at this time. Postmedia received a similar reply from both WorkSafeBC and the B.C. Coroners Service.

Many in B.C.’s marine community are hoping the four investigations could lead to improved safety regulations in the tow industry. Since 2016, there have been 350 accidents involving tugboats or barges in B.C., including 24 sinkings and two fatalities, according to data collected by the TSB.

The board has been calling on Transport Canada to make safety management systems (SMS) mandatory on all vessels, including small tugboats like the Ingenika, for almost a decade.


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SMS is an internationally recognized framework that allows companies to identify and address safety risks. It can incorporate elements such as safe operating standards, a planned maintenance program, a crew training regime and how to respond to specific emergency situations. Transport Canada already requires SMS for larger vessels.

Other stakeholders, including some B.C. tugboat companies, want to see the tug-to-tow weight ratio regulated.

There are currently no regulations governing the tug-to-tow ratio, which allows small tugs to pull large barges that may be beyond their capabilities, said Jason Woods, president of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, Local 400.

“You can tow a barge full of logging equipment on a bungee cord if you want to,” he has said.


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Transport Canada has indicated it is working on a number of “new regulatory projects” that will apply to all Canadian vessels, including making SMS mandatory, with a first draft expected in the fall.

Meanwhile, Carlick-Pearson, as well as some coastal First Nations communities, are calling on authorities to raise the Ingenika from the bottom of the Gardner Canal both to prevent environmental damage and determine why the tug sank.

“Without the boat, we won’t really know what happened that night,” she said. “It could be a smoking gun.”

Carlick-Pearson has also started raising funds to start a marine training school in Prince Rupert in honour of her husband. She hopes to teach kids and families about safety on the water, as well as offer the courses needed for a career in the marine industry. Pearson had to travel to Ladner to do his training, she said.


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“It would be better to have something here, closer to home, particularly for Indigenous people who might not want to leave their community for training.”

For more information about the Pearson Marine School of Safety or the memorial event, contact

  1. A family photo of Charley Cragg. The 25-year-old man died when the tugboat he was working on sank near Kitimat in February.

    ‘He’s gone forever:’ Mother of B.C. man killed in tugboat sinking wants answers

  2. Jason Woods, president of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, Local 400. The union is calling for better federal regulations to make B.C.'s tugboat industry safer.

    Tugboat tragedy raises questions about safety on B.C. coast

  3. Safety concerns have prompted many connected to B.C.'s tugboat industry to call for regulatory changes.

    Federal regulations governing tugboats not ‘up to the task’

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Russia Just Launched a New Science Module to the Space Station – Universe Today



The International Space Station (ISS) is about to get a little bigger.

On July 21, the Russian Space Agency launched the station’s newest module into orbit aboard a Proton-M rocket. The module, dubbed Nauka (which means science), is the station’s first new module since 2016, aside from some new docking ports and airlocks. The Nauka module includes several important additions that will enhance the station’s capabilities.

One of Nauka’s primary systems is its guidance and navigation abilities, which will provide additional attitude control capabilities to the ISS. At 13 meters long, the module’s interior contains new research facilities and storage space. The module also provides additional sleeping quarters for station crew. This is an important addition, since the United States recently re-established its human spaceflight capabilities with two new spacecraft: SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule, and the upcoming Boeing Starliner, slated for another test flight later this year. The addition of both new vehicles alongside the Russian Soyuz vehicle means that bigger crews can visit the station at once, and Nauka will provide these larger crews with a home.

Nauka is also carrying one other new piece of technology: a robotic arm built by the European Space Agency. A counterpart to the Canadarm 2 already on station, the European arm is 11 meters long and is designed to ‘walk’ around the Russian segment of the ISS (which the Canadarm can’t reach), carrying out repairs and upgrades as necessary.

Artist’s Rendering of Nauka attached to the Station. Credit: NASA.

Nauka’s development was a troubled process, and it has gone through years of problems and delays. It was first built as a backup to the Zarya module – the first component of the ISS ever launched in 1998. Nauka was set to join its twin in orbit in 2007, but failed to launch then, and was delayed again several times for various reasons, including fuel leaks, expired warranties, and most recently, pandemic delays.

In recent months, political tensions have raised questions as to the extent of Russia’s commitment to its partnership role in ISS. Nauka’s launch, at last, provides some concrete evidence that Russia is indeed committed to maintaining its presence on the station, at least in the short term, which is good news for everyone involved.

Unfortunately, Nauka’s launch didn’t go entirely smoothly. Although it reached orbit and its antenna and solar panels deployed as expected, a computer glitch caused its first orbit-raising maneuver to fail. After some troubleshooting, a second attempt at the maneuver appears to have been successfully carried out by backup thrusters on July 22.

If all goes well from here on out, it should take about a week for Nauka to reach the station. The latest update from the Russian Space Agency indicated that the next orbit raising attempt is scheduled for Tuesday July 27.

Plans are still in place to remove the Pirs docking port from the station this week (which will burn up in the atmosphere) to make room for Nauka, suggesting that confidence is high that the module will arrive as planned.

Learn more: Jeff Foust, “Russia launches Nauka module to International Space StationSpaceNews.

Featured Image: Nauka’s launch on July 21. Roscosmos/NASATV.

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Elon Musk's SpaceX lands NASA launch contract for mission to Jupiter's moon Europa – Euronews



Elon Musk’s private rocket company SpaceX was awarded a $178 million (€151 million) launch services contract for NASA’s first mission focusing on Jupiter’s icy moon Europa and whether it may host conditions suitable for life, the space agency said on Friday.

The Europa Clipper mission is due for blastoff in October 2024 on a Falcon Heavy rocket owned by Musk’s company, Space Exploration Technologies Corp, from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, NASA said in a statement posted online.

The contract marked NASA’s latest vote of confidence in the Hawthorne, California-based company, which has carried several cargo payloads and astronauts to the International Space Station for NASA in recent years.

In April, SpaceX was awarded a $2.9 billion (€2.46 billion) contract to build the lunar lander spacecraft for the planned Artemis program that would carry NASA astronauts back to the moon for the first time since 1972.

But that contract was suspended after two rival space companies, Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin and defense contractor Dynetics Inc, protested against the SpaceX selection.

Evidence of life?

The company’s partly reusable 23-story Falcon Heavy, currently the most powerful operational space launch vehicle in the world, flew its first commercial payload into orbit in 2019.

NASA did not say what other companies may have bid on the Europa Clipper launch contract.

The probe is to conduct a detailed survey of the ice-covered Jovian satellite, which is a bit smaller than Earth’s moon and is a leading candidate in the search for life elsewhere in the solar system.

A bend in Europa’s magnetic field observed by NASA’s Galileo spacecraft in 1997 appeared to have been caused by a geyser gushing through the moon’s frozen crust from a vast subsurface ocean, researchers concluded in 2018. Those findings supported other evidence of Europa plumes.

Among the Clipper mission’s objectives are to produce high-resolution images of Europa’s surface, determine its composition, look for signs of geologic activity, measure the thickness of its icy shell and determine the depth and salinity of its ocean, NASA said.

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