Why China wants to go to Mars
Last week India set a world record by launching 104 satellites from a single rocket. The feat added fuel to Asia’s “space race” just weeks after China had unveiled a shortlist of eight names for its first Mars spacecraft, scheduled to launch by 2020. Ranging from spiritual concepts (“chasing dreams”, “questions for heaven”) to fantastic creatures (“flying phoenix”, “soaring dragon”), they suggest the elevated stakes the mission holds for the country’s leadership. The jury, which selected finalists from a list of 35,900 entries, is set to announce its choice around April 24th, the country’s official Space Day. This fanfare is light-years away from the secrecy in which China’s space programme was once shrouded. It declares an ambitious new vision for space exploration, of a kind that has been eluding Western agencies. When much of the planet seems consumed by more earthly matters, why is China so keen to send probes into the solar system?
This is an excerpt of an article I wrote for The Economist. Click here to read it in full