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On December 8, 2018, China successfully launched Chang'e-4 probe with Long March No. 3 B carrier rocket at Xichang Satellite Launch Center, opening a new journey of lunar exploration. On January 3, 2019, after a 26-day orbital flight around the moon, Chang'e-4 successfully landed at the moon's Antarctic-Von Carmen crater, representing the first landing of all mankind on the back of the moon, and launched a lunar tour, which was a great trip to the moon.


China became the third country to land a probe on the Moon on Jan. 3. But, more importantly, it became the first to do so on the far side of the moon, often called the dark side. The ability to land on the far side of the moon is a technical achievement in its own right, one that neither Russia nor the United States has pursued.


The probe, Chang’e 4, is symbolic of the growth of the Chinese space program and the capabilities it has amassed, significant for China and for relations among the great power across the world. The consequences extend to the United States as the Trump administration considers global competition in space as well as the future of space exploration.


One of the major drivers of U.S. space policy historically has been competition with Russia particularly in the context of the Cold War. If China’s successes continue to accumulate, could the United States find itself engaged in a new space race?


This does not mean the Chinese were not concerned about the global power space efforts can generate. In 1992, they concluded that having a space station would be a major sign and source of prestige in the 21st century. As such, a human spaceflight program was re-established leading to the development of the Shenzhou spacecraft. The first Chinese astronaut, or taikonaut, Yang Liwei, was launched in 2003. In total, six Shenzhou missions have carried 12 taikonauts into low earth orbit, including two to China’s first space station, Tiangong-1.


In addition to human spaceflight, the Chinese have also undertaken scientific missions like Chang’e 4. Its first lunar mission, Chang’e 1, orbited the moon in October 2007 and a rover landed on the moon in 2013. China’s future plans include a new space station, a lunar base and possible sample return missions from Mars.


A new space race?
The most notable feature of the Chinese space program, especially compared to the early American and Russian programs, is its slow and steady pace. Because of the secrecy that surrounds many aspects of the Chinese space program, its exact capabilities are unknown. However, the program is likely on par with its counterparts.


In terms of military applications, China has also demonstrated significant skills. In 2007, it undertook an anti-satellite test, launching a ground-based missile to destroy a failed weather satellite. While successful, the test created a cloud of orbital debris that continues to threaten other satellites. The movie “Gravity” illustrated the dangers space debris poses to both satellites and humans. In its 2018 report on the Chinese military, the Department of Defense reported that China’s military space program “continues to mature rapidly.”


Regardless, China’s abilities in space are growing to the extent that is reflected in popular culture. In Andy Weir’s 2011 novel “The Martian” and its later film version, NASA turns to China to help rescue its stranded astronaut. While competition can lead to advances in technology, as the first space race demonstrated, a greater global capacity for space exploration can also be beneficial not only for saving stranded astronauts but increasing knowledge about the universe where we all live. Even if China’s rise heralds a new space race, not all consequences will be negative.

无论如何,中国的太空实力正在增长,这在流行文化中得到了体现。在安迪·韦尔(Andy Weir) 2011年的小说《火星救援》(The Martian)及其后来的电影版中,美国国家航空航天局(NASA)向中国求助,以营救其受困的宇航员。正如第一次太空竞赛所表明的那样,竞争可以导致技术的进步,更大的全球空间探索能力也可能不仅有利于拯救受困的宇航员,还有助于增进对我们生活的宇宙的了解。即使中国的崛起预示着一场新的太空竞赛,也不是所有的结果都是负面的。