China announced Tuesday it plans to land probes on Earth’s moon and Mars by 2020.
China wants to be the first country to soft land a probe on the far side of the moon by 2018, and the second country to operate a Mars probe by 2020.
“To explore the vast cosmos, develop the space industry and build China into a space power is a dream we pursue unremittingly,” reads a white paper on the country’s space strategy for the next five years. China’s eventual goal is to land an astronaut on the moon.
The paper indicates that China’s already rapidly advancing space program is an important point of national prestige.
China’s lunar mission would survey the geography and geology of the dark side of the moon, something that no probe has previously done.
If China can successfully land a probe on Mars, it will be the second nation in human history to do so. Both Russian and the European Union have repeatedly failed to operate a probe on Mars. No country besides the U.S. has successfully operated a probe on Mars for longer than 14.5 seconds.
“The probe, for its part, will carry 13 payloads including a remote sensing camera and a ground penetrating radar which could be used to study the soil, environment, and atmosphere of Mars, as well as the planet’s physical fields, the distribution of water and ice, and its inner structure,” Xinhua, China’s state-run news agency, described the Mars probe.
China has an ambitious, military-run, multi-billion-dollar space program which the country’s government sees as symbolizing its rising global stature.
Since launching its first manned mission in 2003, China has sent up an experimental space station, staged a spacewalk and landed a rover on the moon. The country has also increased its cooperation in space with Europe and launched its second space station this September. China recovered an experimental probe launched from a new rocket design in June, marking a big step forward in its plans to go to Mars by the end of the decade.
China’s space program has faced problems however, as the country’s 2013 lunar rover had numerous mechanical problems and was ultimately abandoned. China’s first attempt to send a satellite into Mars orbit in 2011 failed when the rocket carrying it failed to make it into Earth’s orbit.
Meanwhile, NASA hasn’t launched an astronaut into space since 2011 without the help of the Russians and has been forced by the Obama administration to delay its Mars missions until 2030.
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