When China landed its rover on Mars last week, it took another great step toward achieving its ambition of becoming “a space power in all respects”. Beijing is determined to harness the scientific, economic, military and diplomatic advantages of its space exploration program, which is also a source of national pride and a major element in the power contest with the United States.
The Zhurong rover (祝融号) is part of Beijing’s first interplanetary unmanned mission to Mars, Tianwen-1 (天问一号). The plan is for the rover to explore Mars’ surface studying the planet’s topography, soil structure, magnetic fields and climate, and searching for potential underground reserves of water ice that could support future human colonization.
It is a historic achievement for the China National Space Administration space program and comes conveniently in the year the Communist Party celebrates its 100th anniversary. The front page of the People’s Daily ran a message from president Xi Jinping, with the title printed in red, praising China’s leap into the “world's advanced ranks in the field of planetary exploration,” and stressing the mission’s significance not just for mankind, but for the country’s “self-reliance in science and technology”.