WELCOME to the space race! There is no denial that even as the world grapples with a pandemic, China and the US are advancing space exploration through different initiatives. Earlier this year, Mars became the site of competition. The planet is overcrowded with orbiters, namely Mars Odyssey, Mars Express, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, Mars Orbiter Mission, MAVEN, the Trace Gas Orbiter, the Tianwen-1 orbiter and the Hope Mars Mission. That does not include the two rovers on the surface -- Nasa’s Curiosity and Perseverance.
The Global Times, a daily tabloid newspaper under the auspices of the Chinese Communist Party’s flagship People’s Daily newspaper, said that the Long March-5B Y2 rocket, carrying the Tianhe module, left the Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site in south China’s Hainan Province on April 29, 2021.
The module is the foundation of the space station that China plans to construct and rival the International Space Station (ISS) that will sign off in 2024.
The editorial reads: “We should be proud of our achievements in the aerospace cause under the West’s doubt and isolation. The US once blocked China from participating in the ISS project, and thus pushed China to rapidly develop its own aerospace technology. Today, we are going to have our own space station. This will provide a profound lesson and inspiration to the Chinese people.”
So how is the space program of the US? Nasa (National Aeronautics and Space Administration), according to its official website, “will not be racing a competitor. Rather, we will build upon the community of industrial, international and academic partnerships forged for the space station.”
For some time now, Nasa has backed private initiatives for its space program. Its next launch will happen on June 3 with SpaceX’s 22nd Commercial Resupply Services mission.
Elon Musk’s SpaceX has partnered with Nasa for the agency’s Crew-1 mission that launched on Nov. 15 and returned safely on May 2. The Crew-2 mission that blasted off on April 23 will return to Earth in six months. These missions allow the astronauts to conduct research in the ISS.
The ISS is described as “a convergence of science, technology and human innovation that demonstrates new technologies and enables research not possible on Earth.” Operating since November 2000, the ISS has hosted 244 people of various nationalities and will serve as the jump-off point for missions to the moon and Mars. But with the ISS out of commission in three years’ time, the US and company may need to find an alternative space hub. The question is, “Will China’s Tiangong Space Station accommodate them once operational?”