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A long march to the moon and beyond

The return of three astronauts to Earth on Saturday after six months from China’s new space station marks a milestone in the country’s space ambitions and ends its longest manned mission ever.

The world’s second largest economy has poured billions into its military-run space program in hopes of sending humans to the moon.

China has come a long way to catch up with the United States 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:

The lunar rover Jade Rabbit studied the lunar surface for 31 months The lunar rover Jade Rabbit studied the lunar surface for 31 months Photo: CCTV / CCTV

Shortly after the Soviet Union launched Sputnik in 1957, Chairman Mao Zedong announced, “We too will build satellites.”

It took more than a decade, but in 1970 China launched its first satellite on a Long March rocket.

Human spaceflight lasted decades longer, and Yang Liwei became the first Chinese “taikonaut” in 2003.

As launch neared, concerns about the feasibility of the mission prompted Beijing to cancel a last-minute live television broadcast.

But it went smoothly: Yang orbited the Earth 14 times during a 21-hour flight aboard the Shenzhou 5.

China has since launched seven manned missions.

China has conducted experiments in a laboratory simulating a lunar-like environment in preparation for its long-term goal of putting humans on the moon China has conducted experiments in a laboratory simulating a lunar-like environment in preparation for its long-term goal of putting humans on the moon Photo: AFP/STR

Following in the footsteps of the United States and Russia, China began planning to build its own space station to orbit the planet.

The Tiangong-1 laboratory was established in 2011.

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

The vehicle was also used for medical experiments and, most importantly, tests in preparation for the construction of a space station.

This was followed in 2013 by the lunar rover Jade Rabbit, which initially appeared as a dud when it went into hibernation and stopped sending signals back to Earth.

The launch of a rocket carrying China's Chang'e-5 lunar probe underscores just how much progress Beijing has made on its The launch of a rocket carrying China’s Chang’e-5 lunar probe underscores just how much progress Beijing has made on its “space dream.” Photo: AFP/STR

However, it recovered dramatically, eventually probing the lunar surface for 31 months – well beyond its expected lifetime.

In 2016, China launched its second orbital laboratory, the Tiangong-2. Astronauts visiting the station conducted experiments on growing rice and other crops.

Under President Xi Jinping, plans for China’s “space dream” have been pushed into high gear.

Beijing is trying to finally catch up with the United States and Russia after years of being late in reaching their milestones.

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

But work on the moon suffered a setback in 2017 when the Long March-5 Y2, a powerful heavy-lift rocket, failed to launch on a mission to send communications satellites into orbit.

This forced the postponement of the launch of Chang’e-5, originally scheduled to collect lunar samples in the second half of 2017.

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

This was followed by one that landed on the near side of the moon last year and hoisted a Chinese flag on the lunar surface.

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

And in February 2021, the first images of Mars were sent back by the five-ton Tianwen-1, which then landed a rover on the Martian surface in May, which has since begun exploring the red planet’s surface.

A trio of astronauts successfully docked in October with the Chinese space station’s Tianhe core module, which was launched in April 2021.

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

China’s Tiangong space station – meaning “heavenly palace” – will take around 11 missions in total to bring more parts and assemble them into orbit.

Once complete, it is expected to remain in low Earth orbit between 400 and 450 kilometers (250 and 280 miles) above our planet for at least 10 years — achieving the goal 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 said it is open to foreign cooperation.

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

https://www.ibtimes.com/chinas-space-dream-long-march-moon-beyond-3476030?utm_source=Public&utm_medium=Feed&utm_campaign=Distribution A long march to the moon and beyond

Brian Ashcraft

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