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China’s ambitious plans in space: the Moon, Mars and beyond




China’s launch in April of the main module of its new space station into orbit attracted more international attention than expected for the wrong reasons. After reaching orbit, the main rocket thruster returned to Earth in a disturbing fashion in what is known as an uncontrolled reentry. The debris landed in the Indian Ocean in May, narrowly missing the Maldives and sparking criticism over how China is carrying out launches of its heaviest rocket, the Long March 5B.

More launches like this are coming anyway. The mission was the first of 11 needed to build China’s third space station, and the most ambitious, by the end of 2022. Two more Long March 5B rockets will carry additional modules, and other variants will launch parts smaller. Four missions, including one scheduled for June, will bring Chinese astronauts back to space after more than four years.

China’s first two space stations were short-lived prototypes, but this one is set to operate for a decade or more. Xi, the Chinese leader, compared it to the two bombs, a satellite exhortation from the Mao Zedongs era, which referred to China’s race to develop a nuclear weapon, mount it on an intercontinental ballistic missile, and put a satellite in orbit. Like all of China’s achievements in space, it is presented as proof of the prowess of the Communist Party-led state.

The International Space Station, jointly developed by the United States, Russia and others, is approaching the end of its expected life in 2024. It is not clear what will happen next. NASA has offered to keep the station in operation for a few more years; Russia has announced its intention to pull out by 2025.

If the station is taken out of service, Chinas could be the only game in town for a while.

The station named, like the first two, Tiangong, or Heavenly Palace will accommodate three astronauts for long-term missions and up to six for shorter periods. China has selected a team of 18 astronauts, some of whom are civilians (only one is a woman). The first three are expected to spend three months in space, which would surpass the record of 33 days for Chinese astronauts set in 2016.

Hao Chun, the director of the Chinas Manned Space Agency, told state media that astronauts from other countries would be allowed to surrender, whether aboard a Chinese spacecraft or their own, although they would need a mooring mechanism that conforms to Chinese standards, which are different. those of the International Space Station. He said some foreign astronauts are already learning Mandarin in preparation.

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