It's never been done before, even by space-faring nations with decades of experience. But on Thursday, China became the first to land a spacecraft on the far side of the moon. The Chang'e 4 spacecraft trip is just the latest of China's space missions. The nation's burgeoning space program has already sent astronauts into space atop their own rockets, sent several probes to the moon, and has outlined plans for much more. "China is now a major player in the first rank of space powers, and that's going to be the reality for decades to come," says Michael Neufeld, senior curator in the Space History Department at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington.
My country was born on October 24, 1964. The former British protectorate of Northern Rhodesia, taking its new name from the great Zambezi River, would henceforth be known as Zambia. A week later, Time magazine published an article that focussed on the nation's first President, Kenneth David Kaunda, a "teetotaling, guitar-strumming, nonsmoking Presbyterian preacher's son and ex-schoolteacher," who advocated for "positive neutrality" in the Cold War and for a "multiracial society" in Zambia. Another figure appeared in the article's closing paragraph: One noted Zambian failed to share in all the harmony. He is Edward Mukuka Nkoloso, a grade-school science teacher and the director of Zambia's National Academy of Science, Space Research and Philosophy, who claimed the goings-on interfered with his space program to beat the U.S. and the Soviet Union to the moon. Already Nkoloso is training twelve Zambian astronauts, including a curvaceous 16-year-old girl, by spinning them around a tree in an oil drum and teaching them to walk on their hands, "the only way humans can walk on the moon." Time's whimsical footnote prompted a flurry of interest from foreign reporters. "We do not know whether to take the announcement of this news from Lusaka seriously, or whether to conclude that Zambia somehow has been victimized by a Madison Avenue type," one confessed. Others wondered if it was "a semiserious space program" or "a useful publicity stunt." Their interviews with Nkoloso did little to clarify whether his space program was serious, silly, or a sendup. "Some people think I'm crazy," Nkoloso told a reporter for the Associated Press.
This week, after a six-month, 292.5-million-mile journey, NASA's Perseverance rover touched down on the surface of Mars. The United States is the only country to have successfully landed on the Red Planet, but spacecraft from China and the United Arab Emirates recently arrived in Mars's orbit. In the fifty years since the Cold War space race was at its peak, other governments and private businesses have launched ambitious space programs. How long can the United States remain the leader in space exploration? Adam Mann joins Dorothy Wickenden to discuss the Perseverance mission and the past and future of America's space program.
HONG KONG--China will attempt to land a rover on Mars in the coming days, a test of how far the country's ambitious space program has developed. The country's first Mars exploratory mission Tianwen-1 will attempt the landing on the red planet sometime between Saturday and Wednesday, the China National Space Administration said in a short statement late Friday. Its target landing site is Mars's Utopia Planitia plain, the agency said. China plans for the 240-kilogram (529-pound) Zhurong rover--named after the god of fire in ancient Chinese mythology--to explore the planet for about 90 Martian days. Known as sols, days on Mars are about 39 minutes longer than days on Earth.