Exploring and conquering space has been on the agenda of the US for at least 60 years. NASA, which is short for National Aeronautics and Space Administration, was founded in 1958. Back in the days, a race for space had started between the US and the Soviet Union. When the USSR successfully launched its first artificial satellite (Sputnik I) in 1957, the US could not stay behind.
After bringing satellites in an orbit around the earth and exploring the moon, space researchers turned their eye to other planets. Mars is one of the most favored, because the planet is relatively close to Earth –yet still a whopping 55 million km– and it is believed that life is possible there.
In the meantime, China also joined the race for space, and it seems to be pretty ambitious. The China National Space Administration (CNSA) has already conducted several missions to the moon and, just like the US, now also visits Mars.
China’s lunar program –the Chang’e Project, named after the Chinese moon goddess– is an ongoing series of missions, incorporating lunar orbiters, landers, rovers and a sample return spacecraft. China aims at exploiting lunar reserves of metals such as titanium, and of helium-3, possibly a fuel for nuclear fusion power plants in the future.
Since the planet Mars in its orbit is at is closest to earth in 2021, both the US and China executed Mars explorations recently. NASA’s Perseverance Rover landed on Mars in February 2021 and has since (up to July 2022) traveled 11.8 km on rough terrain. It is the fifth Mars rover exploration of the US.
China’s Zhurong Rover –Zhurong is the name of an ancient Chinese god of fire– landed on Mars in May 2021 and had travelled 1920 km a year later, on more smooth terrain. China’s first Mars exploration will investigate the presence of ice in the soil of the red planet, as well as the presence of life and the possibility for life on Mars. The Chinese space program may have started much later than the American, but it has caught up concerning the level of its space technology.