U.S.-China Space Race Takes Off As Beijing Announces Crewed Missions To Mars

Topline

China plans to send its first crewed mission to Mars in 2033, the country’s lead rocket maker announced Thursday, part of the country’s ambitious plan to begin large-scale development of the Red Planet and ratcheting up tensions with the U.S. as the two race to become the Earth’s dominant power in space.   

Key Facts

China intends to send crewed missions to Mars in 2033, 2035, 2037, 2041 and 2043, said Wang Xiaojun, the head of state-owned China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology during a conference.  

Ultimately, Wang said, China envisages building a permanent presence on Mars and large-scale development of its resources, with a fleet of vessels running between it and Earth.

Robotic missions to scout possible base locations, sample the surface and build resource-extracting equipment will precede the crewed missions.

The announcement will intensify the space race between Washington and Beijing, coming on the heels of a spate of successful Chinese space missions, including one that saw China become the only non-U.S. country to successfully deploy a Martian rover in May and launch three astronauts to its new space station, Tiangong.  

NASA, the U.S. space agency, is developing the technology needed to send humans to Mars in the 2030s. 

Key Background

China has repeatedly and openly stated its plans of becoming a leading power in space. Martian ambition comes alongside plans to build a base on the Moon with Russia, building its own space station to rival the International Space Station—as U.S. law prohibits Chinese involvement in the ISS—and launching a satellite system to rival the U.S. government-owned GPS, alongside a string of other achievements. Beijing is also working to achieve military superiority in space.   

What To Watch For

China’s pursuit of its ambitions in space has led some to criticize the nation’s haphazard and irresponsible behavior, particularly regarding the rubbish it leaves behind. In May, a rocket booster China used to launch part of its space station crashed back to Earth after spending some time in orbit. Unlike most boosters, its time in orbit made it unclear when or where it would land, drawing a wave of criticism from the international community. It is far from the first time China has been criticized for space debris, and the latest incident has reignited calls for more comprehensive regulation of space. 

Further Viewing

 

Further Reading

China plans its first crewed mission to Mars in 2033 (Reuters)

That Massive Chinese Rocket Just Fell To Earth (Forbes)

China’s ambitions in space: national pride or taking on the Americans? (FT)

Read The Full Story