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Slashdot - China Maps Out Plans to Put Astronauts on the Moon - and on Mars


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The New York Times cites predictions from American's Defense Department that China could surpass U.S. space capabilities as soon as 2045. "I think it's entirely possible they could catch up and surpass us, absolutely," said the staff director of the United States Space Force. "The progress they've made has been stunning — stunningly fast." But in a new article this week, the newspaper notes that China recenty sent space probes to the moon and to Mars — and invited foreign media to the launch of its space station in November — and looks back over decades of development: Thirty years ago, the Chinese government initiated a secret plan for its space program, including a key goal of building a space station by 2020. At the time, the country was 11 years from sending its first astronaut into space, and its space efforts were going through a rough patch: Chinese rockets failed in 1991, 1992, 1995 and twice in 1996. The worst failure, in 1996, was a rocket that tipped to the side, flew in the wrong direction and exploded 22 seconds after launch, showering a Chinese village with falling wreckage and flaming fuel that killed or injured at least 63 people. While grand spaceflight plans of some nations have ended up many years behind schedule, China completed the assembly in orbit of its Tiangong space station in late October, only 22 months later than planned. And on Nov. 29, the Shenzhou 15 mission blasted off from China's Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center deep in the Gobi Desert and took three astronauts to the space station to begin permanent occupancy of the outpost. The article notes that the U.S. Congress "ended up banning American space agencies in 2011 from spending any money to cooperate in space with China, except in limited circumstances." But today Zhou Jianping, chief designer of China's crewed space program, asserts that "within a few years, we will be able to achieve the reuse of re-entry capsules for our new generation spaceships." Sending a person to Mars is an even bigger prize for China. It has placed an emphasis on shortening the duration of such a trip, perhaps with nuclear propulsion instead of conventional rocket engines. Officials are also determined that any journey will be a round-trip from which all astronauts return alive and in good health.... With nuclear propulsion, the trip could be trimmed to 500 days, Mr. Zhou said, without predicting whether China would adopt that approach.

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