By Flora Drury BBC News
- 3 January 2019
China is a relative late-bloomer when it comes to the world of space exploration.
But just 15 years after it first sent an astronaut into orbit, China has become the first country to successfully land a robotic spacecraft on the far side of the Moon.
And in the next decades it plans not only to build a new space station, but also a base on the Moon and conduct missions to Mars.
Importantly, Xi Jinping, the country’s most powerful leader since Chairman Mao, has thrown his support behind the “space dream” – and with it billions in investment. Chinese state media, meanwhile, have cast the “space dream” as one step in the path to “national rejuvenation”.
So why are President Xi and China so keen to make their mark in space – and what does it mean for the rest of the world?
Sending a message
According to Prof Keith Hayward, a fellow of the UK’s Royal Aeronautical Society, China is being driven by the same motivations as the US, Russia and others.
First, demand from the military, without which “you would not have had half the money going in”.
Second, as “a good way to show off”. “You could say that this is the space Silk Road – it demonstrates China is a force to be reckoned with,” Prof Hayward notes.
Third, hitherto untapped resources which have the potential to make whoever finds them wealthy.
“It is the classic triad that has driven investment in space for the better part of 50 odd years,” he told the BBC.