China’s ambitious and fast-growing space program is targeting a landing on the dark side of the moon by 2018, and reaching Mars before the end of the decade.
The country’s space agency held a press conference on Tuesday to mark the release of a policy paper, and outlined the government’s ambitious goals for exploring deep space.
Wu Yanhua, deputy chief of the National Space Administration, said Beijing aims to launch its first Mars probe around 2020 to carry out orbiting and roving exploration, followed by a second mission that would include collection of surface samples from the red planet.
He said other plans include sending probes to Jupiter and its moons.
“Our overall goal is that, by around 2030, China will be among the major space powers of the world,” he said.
China was late to the space race; it didn’t send its first satellite into space until 1970, just after the United States put the first man on the moon.
But in the decades since, China has pumped billions of dollars and other resources into research and training.
Since 2003, China has staged a spacewalk, landed a rover on the moon and launched a space lab that it hopes paves the way for a 20-ton space station.
It has also sent five crews into space in the same span of time, making it only the third country in the world after Russia and the United States with such success.