China invokes mythic god of war and fire to name its Mars rover

China looked to the heavens when it named its first Mars rover — calling it Zhurong, after a mythical god of fire and war.

It’s in keeping with China’s ambitious plans for the Red Planet — which they call “Huo Xing,” or Fire Star — that include becoming the third country after the US and the former Soviet Union to send a robot there, the China National Space Administration announced Saturday.

The rover is already en route to Mars aboard the Tianwen-1 probe, which is due to land in May and will look for evidence of life, the Associated Press reported.

“Zhurong is revered as the earliest god of fire in traditional Chinese culture, symbolising the use of fire to illuminate the earth and bring light,” space administration officials said Saturday.

“The first Mars rover was named Zhurong, and it means to ignite the fire for interstellar exploration in our country, and guide mankind to continue exploration and self-transcendence in the vast starry sky.”

China's first Mars rover 'Zhurong', a fire god in ancient Chinese legend, is announced at the opening ceremony of 2021 China Space Conference on the sixth Space Day of China on April 24, 2021.
China’s first Mars rover ‘Zhurong’, a fire god in ancient Chinese legend, is announced at the opening ceremony of 2021 China Space Conference on the sixth Space Day of China on April 24, 2021.
China News Service via Getty Ima

China’s space plans involve more than Mars exploration, however. The country plans a crewed orbital station, and intends to land a human on the moon. In 2019 it became the first country to land a space probe on the far side of the moon. Last year it brought back lunar rocks to Earth for the first time since the 1970s.

Visitors to the National Museum look at a model of the Chinese Mars rover expected to make a landing on Mars later this year in Beijing on March 12, 2021.
Visitors to the National Museum look at a model of the Chinese Mars rover expected to make a landing on Mars later this year.
AP

Tianwen-1 will probably alight upon Utopia Planitia, a rock-riddled flat area where the U.S. lander Viking 2 touched down in 1976. The rover will then help fulfill the mission goals of mapping out the Martian surface and analyzing its geology.

Chinese officials say they hope to look for evidence of water ice and plan to study the climate and surface environment.