2020 Mars Rover Mission Just One More Step in China's Ambitious Space Program
On Friday, in a rare news conference, a top Chinese space official announced China will send a rover to Mars -- the latest step in their ambitious space program.
According to the National Space Administration director Xu Dazhe, the mission had been approved last January, as we highlighted in an earlier article, but this is the first time the plan has been officially announced to the world.
It's a fast track program.
The plan is to launch a 2020 Mars Rover mission and essentially recreate the successes of the American Viking program. As Xu Dazhe said:
What we would like to do is to orbit Mars, make a landing, and rove around for reconnaissance in one mission, which is quite a challenge. This is a project that has attracted much attention from both the science and space fields."
Once on the Martian surface, Xu said, the Chinese rover could study the planet's soil, atmosphere, environment, and look for traces of water.
Researching these matters is really researching humanity itself and the origins of life. Only by completing this Mars probe mission can China say it has truly embarked on the exploration of deep space.
China's recent space efforts have been focused on space stations in low Earth orbit and on exploring the moon. The nation's first lunar rover -- the Yutu, or Jade Rabbit -- was launched in late 2013, but it has since been beset by mechanical troubles.
The country has much bigger plans, however, and is pouring billions into its space program in an effort to catch up with the US and Europe, as well as its Asian neighbor India, which put a low-cost probe into orbit around the Red Planet in September 2014.
It's an ambitious, military-run program that Beijing sees as a symbol of the country's progress and a marker of its rising global stature. But, so far, the missions have been a replication of previous Soviet and US missions designed decades ago.
That may soon change.
By 2018, the country aims to land its Chang'e-4 probe -- named for the moon goddess in Chinese mythology -- on the dark side of the moon. Permanently inhabited outposts may soon follow.