China wants to put the first human on Mars in 2033, according to a new presentation made by Wang Xiaojun, the head of China’s top rocket manufacturer. Wang’s plans were outlined in a new report from Chinese state media outlet the Global Times and includes a Martian base, though nothing is a given when you’re planning a decade out.
Wang, head of the the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology, made the announcement about China’s ambitious plans for Mars during a recent talk at the Global Space Exploration Conference (GLEX 2021)—a presentation given via video link, according to the Global Times.
China, which successfully landed a rover on Mars, and plans to send robots, or “androids” as the media report calls them, before any human beings are sent to the red planet. But it seems a lot of the details are still being worked out, as you can imagine.
From the Global Times:
Nuclear propellant is considered as a prime option for the manned Mars exploration missions, per the academy chief.
Also, a “Sky Ladder” system, according to Wang, is under study, as a starting point for such a space voyage, in a bid to reduce the scale of Mars probe and transport missions.
The academy did not elaborate on the Sky Ladder system.
Private companies in the U.S. have mentioned plans to put a human on Mars but no one has yet come forward with a serious plan for actually making it happen. Billionaire Elon Musk has infamously said that he’d like to die on Mars, but his intention appears to be that such a death would come from old age on the planet. And if the original 1950s and 60s space programs of the U.S. and Soviet Union were any indication, plenty of people will have to die before humans of any nation see themselves on Mars. We can’t imagine Musk will be among the dead.
As Reuters notes, China launched its first crewed mission since 2016 last week, sending three astronauts (or hángtiānyuán, literally heaven navigators, as they’re known in China) to the country’s unfinished space station.
Can China actually become the first country to put a human on Mars? A lot probably depends on how the country’s economy fares during the 2020s. Space programs take a lot of money, and there’s not much reason to go to Mars outside of national pride. That’s precisely the reason you don’t see a moon base yet. Frankly, you don’t need one to achieve the primary purpose of every major country’s space rocket program: Proving you can land an ICBM anywhere on Earth.
The first Cold War got humans to the Moon. But the New Cold War might very well get us to Mars.