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Surprising Science

China Will Overtake U.S. Space Program in 20 Years

China’s first attempt to orbit Mars has failed as its probe was attached to the unsuccessful Russian probe currently stuck in Earth’s orbit. But China, as a space power, is just budding. 

What’s the Latest Development?

The Chinese space program has suffered a setback thanks to the Russian Mars probe currently stranded in Earth’s orbit (and due to crash to Earth sometime this month). China was hoping its probe, Yinghuo-1, would eventually orbit Mars by piggybacking on the Russian craft. But the setback is minor considering the ambition of China’s space program in general. Just this month, for example, it successfully joined two unmanned orbiters, an important step toward building its manned space station by 2020. 

What’s the Big Idea?

A European scientist who has worked with China’s space scientists predicts its space program will progress rapidly: “In twenty years, China will be dominating the United States,” he says. “There is a sense of national urgency and dedication in China, and the rate at which they learn is phenom­enal. It won’t take that long.” Chinese collaboration with the U.S. on any space projects is highly unlikely since, for example, the U.S. has consistently vetoed Chinese participation in the International Space Station. 

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