Chinese space dream long March to the Moon and beyond

(ORDO NEWS) — The return to Earth of three astronauts on Saturday after six months on China‘s new space station was a landmark step in realizing the country’s space ambitions, completing the longest crewed mission in history.

The world’s second-largest economy has poured billions into its military space program, hoping to eventually put people on the moon.

China has come a long way to catch up with the US and Russia, whose astronauts and cosmonauts have decades of experience in space exploration.

Here’s a look at the country’s space program and where it’s headed:

Mao’s Oath

Shortly after the Soviet Union launched a satellite in 1957, Chairman Mao Zedong said, “We’ll make satellites too.”

It took more than a decade, but in 1970 China launched its first satellite on a Long March rocket. Human spaceflight took several decades, and in 2003, Yang Liwei became China’s first “taikonaut”.

As the launch approached, concerns about the viability of the mission led Beijing to cancel the live television broadcast at the last moment.

However, everything went smoothly: in 21 hours of flight aboard the Shenzhou-5, Yang circled the Earth 14 times in orbit. Since then, China has completed seven crewed flights.

Space Station and Jade Rabbit

Following in the footsteps of the US and Russia, China has begun planning to build its own space station orbiting the planet. The Tiangong-1 laboratory was launched in 2011.

In 2013, the second Chinese woman in space, Wang Yaping, gave a video lesson from the space module to the children of the world’s most populous country.

The ship was also used to conduct medical experiments and, most importantly, tests aimed at preparing for the construction of the space station.

It was followed by Jade Rabbit in 2013, which initially seemed unsuccessful when it went into sleep mode and stopped sending signals to Earth.

However, the craft recovered dramatically and ended up observing the lunar surface for 31 months – well beyond its expected lifespan.

In 2016, China launched its second Tiangong-2 orbital laboratory. The astronauts who visited the station carried out experiments on growing rice and other plants.

Space Dream

Under President Xi Jinping, plans to realize China’s “space dream” have been intensified.

Beijing is aiming to finally catch up with the US and Russia after years of being behind them.

In addition to the space station, China also plans to build a base on the moon, and the country’s National Space Administration has said it intends to launch a crewed lunar mission by 2029.

However, in 2017, lunar work was interrupted when the powerful Long March-5 Y2 heavy rocket failed to launch to send communications satellites into orbit.

This forced a delay in the launch of Chang’e 5, which was originally scheduled to collect samples on the Moon in the second half of 2017.

Another robot, Chang’e-4, landed on the far side of the Moon in January 2019, a historic first.

It was followed by a landing on the near side of the Moon last year, which resulted in the Chinese flag being raised on the lunar surface.

The unmanned spacecraft returned to Earth in December with rocks and soil, the first lunar samples collected in four decades.

And in February 2021, the first images of Mars were transmitted by the five-ton Tianwen-1 lander, which landed a rover on the Martian surface in May that has since begun exploring the surface of the Red Planet.

A palace in the sky

In October, a trio of astronauts successfully docked on the Tianhe main module of the Chinese space station,

The astronauts stayed on the station for six months before returning safely to Earth on Saturday, completing China’s longest crewed mission to date.

China’s Tiangong space station – which means “sky palace” – will need about 11 missions in total to bring in more parts and assemble them in orbit.

Once completed, it is expected to remain in low Earth orbit at an altitude of 400 to 450 kilometers above our planet for at least 10 years, fulfilling the ambition of maintaining a long-term human presence in space.

While China has no plans to use its space station for global cooperation on the scale of the International Space Station, Beijing has said it is open to foreign cooperation.

It is not yet clear how extensive this cooperation will be.

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