The model of China's first Mars probe Tienwen 1 lander and Zhurong rover at the Zhejiang International Intelligent Transportation Industry Expo 2020. Picture: GETTY IMAGES/COSTFOTO/BARCROFT MEDIA
The model of China's first Mars probe Tienwen 1 lander and Zhurong rover at the Zhejiang International Intelligent Transportation Industry Expo 2020. Picture: GETTY IMAGES/COSTFOTO/BARCROFT MEDIA

Beijing — China wants to send its first crewed mission to Mars in 2033, and regular follow-up flights thereafter, under a long-term plan to build a permanently inhabited base on the Red Planet and extract its resources.

The ambitious plan, which will intensify a race with the US to put humans on Mars, was disclosed in detail for the first time since China landed a robotic rover there in mid-May in its inaugural mission to the planet.

Crewed launches to Mars are planned for 2033, 2035, 2037, 2041 and beyond, the head of China’s main rocket maker, Wang Xiaojun, told a recent space exploration conference in Russia.

China will send robots to Mars to study possible sites for the base and to build systems to extract resources there, the official China Space News reported on Wednesday, citing Wang, who is head of the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology.

For humans to live on Mars, crews would have to be able to use the planet’s resources, such as extracting any water beneath its surface, generating oxygen on-site and producing electricity.

An uncrewed round-trip mission to acquire soil samples from the planet is expected by the end of 2030.

China also needs technology to fly astronauts back to Earth. The US space agency Nasa is developing technology to get a crew to Mars and back sometime in the 2030s.

China’s Mars plan envisages fleets of spacecraft shuttling between the planet  and Earth and major development of its resources, Wang said.

To shorten the travel time, spacecraft would have to tap energy released from nuclear reactions in the form of heat and electricity, in addition to traditional chemical propellants, Wang said.

China would have to accomplish round trips with a total flight time of “a few hundred days”, he said.

China is also planning to set up a base at the south pole of the Moon and is deploying robotic expeditions to asteroids and Jupiter by around 2030.

Last week, it sent three astronauts to an unfinished space station in its first crewed mission since 2016, expanding its growing near-Earth presence and challenging US leadership in orbital space.

Reuters

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