From Mao to Mars: China and its space “Long March”

China expressed its space ambitions more than 60 years ago. This has been his journey.


China ‘s space adventure , launched more than 60 years ago by Chairman Mao Zedong , reached a new milestone on Saturday with the return to Earth of three taikonauts, the Chinese name for astronauts , who completed the country’s longest manned mission to date. now.

China invests billions of dollars in its space program , to try to catch up with Europe, the United States and Russia.

The Chinese space conquest has followed several stages.

A slow start under Mao Zedong

Shortly after the Soviet Union launched Sputnik into orbit in 1957, the founder of the People’s Republic of China , Mao Zedong , declared, “We too will make satellites!”.

It took more than a decade, but in 1970 China launched its first satellite, Dongfanghong-1 (“Red East-1”), named after a song to the glory of Mao .

The rocket that places the satellite in space is called ” Long March “, a name that recalls the journey of the Red Army that allowed Mao to establish himself as the leader of the Chinese Communist Party.

China sends its first taikonaut into space

In 2003, the Asian giant sent the first Chinese into space, the taikonaut Yang Liwei, who circled the Earth 14 times in 21 hours.

It is the third country after the Soviet Union and the United States to send a human into space by its own means.

China tests its own space station

China was deliberately excluded from the International Space Station (ISS) program, which brings together Americans, Russians, Europeans, Japanese and Canadians, and decides to build its own station.

To achieve this, it first launches a small space module, Tiangong-1 (“Heavenly Palace 1”), placed into orbit in September 2011. It serves for astronaut training and medical experiments.

Tiangong-1 stops working in March 2016. The laboratory was considered a preliminary stage in the construction of a space station.

In 2016, China launched its second Tiangong-2 space module.

In between, in 2013, China puts the small remote-controlled robot “Jade Rabbit” on the Moon . It is his first success on the Earth satellite, where he plans to build a base in collaboration with Russia and send astronauts in 2029.

China on the Moon and its own GPS

The Chinese space program suffered a failure in the summer of 2017 with the failed launch of Long March 5, crucial because it allows the heavy cargoes necessary for some missions to be propelled.

This setback led to the three-year postponement of the Chang’e 5 mission. Finally executed in 2020, the mission allows samples of the Moon to be brought back to Earth , something that had not happened for 40 years.

China had achieved another success in January 2019 with a world first: the landing of another remote-controlled robot, the “Jade Rabbit 2”, on the far side of the Moon .

The country launched in June 2020 the last satellite that completes its Beidou navigation system (a competitor of the American GPS).

The future of China: Mars… and even Jupiter

In July 2020, China sent the ” Tianwen-1 ” probe to Mars , carrying a remote-controlled wheeled robot named Zhurong , which reached the surface of Mars in May 2021.

Scientists have mentioned the dream of sending taikonauts to Mars on a distant horizon. Even the head of his space agency, Xu Honglian, mentioned a mission to Jupiter around 2030.

Now yes. A Chinese space station

In October, a team of three taikonauts blasted off for the Chinese space station ‘s Tianhe core module , which had been launched into orbit in April 2021.

On Saturday, six months later, the trio returned to Earth , capping off the longest manned space mission in Chinese history .

To finish assembling the station, called Tiangong (Heavenly Palace, in Chinese), they will need eleven missions to send more modules and assemble them in orbit.

Once completed, the station is to orbit within 400 to 450 kilometers of the Earth’s surface for about 10 years, with the ambition of maintaining a long-term human presence.

In principle, China does not plan to use its space station for international cooperation, but officials said they are open to collaborating with other countries.