China has landed a spacecraft on Mars for the first time, delivering a water-hunting rover to the red planet

china mars global remote sensing and small rover hx 1 martian mission illustration rendering cas xinhua
An illustration of China’s Zhurong rover leaving the lander to explore the Martian surface.

China has landed its first spacecraft on the surface of Mars, according to Chinese state media.

The mission, called Tianwen-1, or “questions to heaven,” is the first to send a spacecraft into the planet’s orbit, drop a landing platform onto the Martian surface, and deploy a rover all in one expedition.

If everything went according to plan, a gumdrop-shaped landing capsule separated from the Tianwen-1 orbiter on Friday evening and fell toward Mars. With the lander and rover safely tucked inside, the capsule plummeted through the Martian atmosphere, friction heating the material around it to temperatures exceeding 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit.

High above the red-dust Martian surface, a supersonic parachute had to deploy to slow the capsule’s fall. As the lander neared its destination, thrusters should have fired downward to help it decelerate. Then it should have lowered itself to the surface on a set of legs to absorb the impact.

China has not released details about the state of the lander or rover. But if everything is in good shape, the landing would make China the third nation to ever successfully put a robot on the Martian surface. It’s the first non-NASA Mars landing since the Soviet Union’s rover touched down in 1971.

Tianwen-1 launched in July 2020 and the spacecraft slipped into orbit around Mars in February. Landing was “the most challenging part of the mission,” the CNSA previously said. Only half the spacecraft that have ever attempted a Mars landing have succeeded.

china tianwen 1 mission orbiter with lander rover capsule
The Tianwen-1 probe, carrying a lander and rover in a landing capsule, en route to Mars. Photo released December 16, 2020.

Now, China’s first Mars lander and rover are sitting in the middle of Utopia Planitia, a vast field of ancient volcanic rock that may have extensive reserves of water ice beneath its surface. If space agencies like NASA someday send humans to Mars, water would be a crucial resource because it can both sustain astronauts and get broken down into hydrogen and oxygen for rocket fuel. It’s unlikely Mars-bound spaceships could carry enough water, oxygen, and hydrogen for the entire journey there and back.

If all goes well, the lander will deploy a two-track ramp for the six-wheeled rover to roll down onto Martian soil. The rover is called Zhurong, named for ancient Chinese mythology’s god of fire, according to the CNSA. It’s set to explore the region and search for its water ice with ground-penetrating radar.

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The surface of Mars, as photographed by the Tianwen-1 spacecraft circling the planet.

The mission is also intended to help China prepare for a future attempt to return Martian rocks or dirt to Earth in the late 2020s.

“Landing safely on Mars is a huge challenge, especially for China’s first soft landing attempt,” Long Xiao, a planetary scientist at the China University of Geosciences, told National Geographic ahead of the attempt. “But it is a necessary step for Mars and deep-space exploration.”

The Zhurong rover has 90 days to explore Mars – for now

china's tianwen-1 zhurong rover replica
A replica of the Tianwen-1 Mars rover is displayed during an exhibition inside the National Museum in Beijing, China, March 3, 2021.

At 530 pounds, Zhurong is about the size of the Spirit and Opportunity rovers NASA landed on Mars in 2004. It could take more than a week to deploy the lander’s ramp and roll the rover onto Martian soil, journalist Andrew Jones reported for IEEE Spectrum. Then it will open its butterfly-wing solar panels to soak up the sunlight and charge its batteries.

Once the rover is on the ground, it has about 90 days to study Mars. That’s its official mission timeline, but Spirit and Opportunity had the same three-month window and ended up exploring Mars for six and 14 years, respectively.

The Tianwen-1 orbiter will continue circling the red planet for one Martian year (two Earth years), relaying data to Earth and taking photos. Its main goal is to “perform a global and extensive survey of the entire planet,” according to a journal article by Tianwen-1 scientists.

This will involve charting Mars’ geology, surveying its climate, and measuring its electromagnetic and gravitational fields.

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Witnesses said Matt Gaetz snorted cocaine and had sex with an escort who was paid with campaign money, report says

matt gaetz
  • Matt Gaetz reportedly snorted cocaine with a female escort at a hotel party in 2019, The Daily Beast reported.
  • The Florida congressman reportedly wrote off the hotel stay as a campain expense.
  • Gaetz faces a Justice Department investigation into whether he violated federal sex-trafficking laws.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Witnesses said Rep. Matt Gaetz snorted cocaine and had sex with an escort who was paid with campaign money, The Daily Beast reported Friday.

In late October 2019, Gaetz headlined as a featured speaker at the “Trump Defender Gala” fundraiser, hosted by the Westgate Lake Resort in Orlando, Florida. At an afterparty in Gaetz’s room following the event, witnesses told The Daily Beast that a woman named Megan Zalonka brought and prepared lines of cocaine on the bathroom counter.

The Florida congressman wrote off the hotel stay as a campaign expense, The Beast reported. Two sources also told The Beast that Gaetz and Zalonka, who worked as a paid escort and amateur Instagram model according to the report, had an ongoing paid relationship in exchange for sex.

“She was just one of the many pieces of arm candy he had,” one source familiar with their relationship told The Beast.

Zalonka was also associated with Joel Greenberg, a former Florida county tax collector and one-time wingman of Gaetz. According to The Beast report, her relationship with Greenberg turned into a “no-show” job funded by taxpayer dollars that earned her $7,000 to $17,500, three sources told the news outlet and corroborated by corresponding government records obtained by The Beast.

Greenberg is expected to plead guilty on Monday to six felony counts including sex trafficking, wire fraud, identity theft, stalking, and conspiracy as first reported by Insider. The Beast reported that Greenberg “will identify that escort to investigators as one of more than 15 young women Gaetz paid for sex, according to a source familiar with the investigation.”

Representatives for Gaetz’s office nor the Logan Circle Group, the public relations firm Gaetz hired, did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment.

In a statement to The Beast, the Logan Circle Group said the congressman “won’t be commenting on whether he dated or didn’t date specific women. The privacy of women living private lives should be protected.”

An attorney for Zalonka said the allegations of the witnesses in The Beast report were not “accurate” and that Zalonka “is not speaking to any media outlet.”

The news that Greenberg would plead guilty marks a major development in his case, which dates back to June 2020 when he was arraigned on federal charges, prompting him to resign from his elected position as tax collector for Florida’s Seminole County. The charges Greenberg will plead guilty to are a significant downgrade from the 33 felonies he was initially charged with prior to striking a deal to cooperate with prosecutors.

The development likely ramps up pressure on Gaetz, who has not been charged with any crime, but who faces a Justice Department investigation into whether he violated federal sex-trafficking laws.

Legal experts told Insider that prosecutors decision to reduce Greenberg’s charges suggests he has information of significant value.

The Gaetz investigation is reportedly looking into whether the Florida congressman used campaign money to fund travel for women. Investigators are said to be scrutinizing Gaetz and Greenberg’s interactions with “multiple women who were recruited online for sex and received cash payments,” according to The New York Times.

Prosecutors are also said to be investigating a Bahamas trip Gaetz reportedly took in late 2018 or early 2019 with a hand surgeon and marijuana entrepreneur as part of the inquiry into whether Gaetz broke sex trafficking laws, CBS News reported last month. Gaetz’s two cruise compatriots allegedly paid for the crew’s travel expenses and accommodations, as well as female sex workers.

Early last month, The Daily Beast reported that in 2018 Gaetz had sent $900 to Greenberg over Venmo, who then sent that same total, in various amounts, to three young women. Then, earlier this week, CNN reported that in addition to Greenberg, federal investigators are also seeking cooperation from a former Capitol Hill intern who used to date Gaetz but did not work in his office.

Gaetz has continued to deny the allegations against him, insisting the Justice Department’s investigation is part of an extortion scheme against him and his family members.

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