After China landed its Zhurong Mars rover on the Red Planet yesterday, there was just one important question on everyone’s minds: When are we going to see a robot battle between NASA’s rover and China’s?
Okay, maybe that wasn’t immediately the first thing on your mind — but a surprising amount of people are clamoring for an epic fight between the Zhurong lander and Perseverance. Many of them took to social media to voice their support for the battle.
Would definitely watch a duel to the death between U.S. and Chinese Mars rovers. Battlebots in Space! https://t.co/mcpkSieIJb
— james gibney (@jamesgibney) February 24, 2021
And who can blame them? An interplanetary robot fight would be awesome.
But let’s get one thing out of the way: This is not going to happen.
Both countries spent billions upon billions of dollars and yuan — not to mention the untold hours of human labor — to get their craft to the Red Planet. They’re not going to throw it away in a single (but admittedly epic) fight. Not only that, but Perseverance and Zhurong are hundreds of miles away from each other, according to Nature.
BUT… what if they did though? Who would win in a martian robot battle between NASA’s Perseverance and China’s Zhurong? Which rover is the pound-for-pound robot fighting champion of the galaxy?
To answer that question, we’re going to analyze each rover and score them against one another using four criteria: Weight, reach, speed, and heart.
We’ll be drawing on publicly available information about each rover — though we should note that China is tight-lipped about its rover (as with most of its space operations). But we can make a few educated guesses to fill in the gaps.
Size is incredibly important when it comes to combat. Even the slightest difference in weight can make all the difference when it comes to human boxing — and robot boxing is no different.
Zhurong weighs in at a respectable 530 pounds. That's the same weight as a grizzly bear and is heavier than both the Spirit and Opportunity rovers that landed on Mars in 2004.
But Percy has Zhurong beat… by a whole lot.
NASA’s Perseverance rover clocks in at a staggering 2,260 pounds, according to NASA. It’s roughly the size of an SUV and more than four times the size of Zhurong.
This would be like if a fully grown man fought a Galapagos penguin. The winner here is clear.
A fighter with long arms can keep their opponents at bay while punching them from afar. Rovers can do the same with their onboard instruments.
Zhurong is fairly limited in the instruments department. It has retractable solar panels that help power it and shake off martian dust, according to The New York Times. They can also be used to smack its opponents to death.
The rover also has a multi-spectral and terrain camera, ground-penetrating radar, magnetic field detector, and weather sensors. All great for being able to see your opponent.
But alas, Perseverance has the Chinese rover beat by a mile — and I mean that literally. With assistance from the Ingenuity helicopter, it can fight Zhurong from a mile away.
Even without Ingenuity, Perseverance still has a seven-foot arm with a drill at the end of it, along with an actual freakin’ laser beam powered by plutonium used to find and analyze samples. Again, this one is barely a contest.
To quote one of the greatest fighting movies of all time, "In the world of kung fu, speed determines the winner."
Unfortunately, both rovers are so slow they can make a sloth look like Usain Bolt — but one is indeed faster than the other.
Perseverance drives with a top speed of .01 miles per hour, according to Space.com. That’s obviously not very fast, especially when you consider that Ingenuity can move at 20+ miles per hour.
On the other hand, Zhurong clocks in at a breakneck .12 miles per hour. That’s lightning fast compared to Perseverance. If we rule Ingenuity out of the equation, the winner here is clear.
If you have two completely equal fighters in weight, speed, and fighting technique, what will separate the winner from the loser is their heart.
We’re talking about the intangibles. The grit that gives fighters that killer instinct. So which rover has more heart?
Perseverance won the love of a lot of space enthusiasts when it landed on Mars in February. It also has a very well-maintained social media presence that frequently updates us on its explorations of the Red Planet.
Testing out my tools as I move into more science. Used my robotic arm to get right up close to this rock after zapping it with my laser. Can you tell I’m really into rocks?https://t.co/7w3rbvbyoL pic.twitter.com/Yl0gzduCWi
— NASA's Perseverance Mars Rover (@NASAPersevere) May 13, 2021
Percy has personality, but does it have that killer instinct?
Zhurong is named after the god of fire in Chinese folk mythology. That’s pretty badass. It evokes destruction and domination.
It’s the name of a rover that’s too busy building a mountain made out of the skulls of its enemies to do things like drafting a tweet.
This one’s close but I think we know who ends up on top.
And the Winner Is…
Based on our highly rigorous criteria, the answer is clear: It’d be a draw.
Where Perseverance wins the day with weight and reach, Zhurong edges it out with speed and a killer instinct.
And, as cheesy as it is, the real winner would be the fans of science and space exploration everywhere. The more we learn about our galaxy and distant planets, the better prepared we’ll all be when it finally comes time to colonize space — and that’s something we can agree on no matter what country you’re from.
More on fighting Mars rovers: Could I Defeat NASA’s New Mars Rover in Hand-to-Hand Combat?