This article is more than 1 year old

Mars race: China dreams of nuclear rockets, manned bases, and space elevators

We're looking forward to the late 21st-century colony wars

Over the next quarter century, China wants to set up a permanent base on Mars for "large scale development of the Red Planet," and install a sci-fi carbon-nanotube elevator to shuttle goods between the surface and spacecraft in orbit.

That’s according to the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology (CALT), the country’s largest rocket maker, which described a road-map outlining the Middle Kingdom's ambition to explore the unforgiving dust world. Missions to Mars are planned for 2033, 2035, 2037, 2041, and 2043 quite possibly using nuclear-propelled spacecraft.

In a speech, CALT’s President Wang Xiaojun said his state-owned organization first intends to send robots to Mars to collect samples of material to study back on Earth. These machines will also scout out good locations to develop a human settlement.

After that, astronauts will journey over and be tasked with building the foundations of a future base and performing science work. A steady stream of supply runs and fresh workers will be needed to achieve this. China also wants to build a space elevator to lower costs. This proposed Sky Ladder system would be fashioned out of carbon nanotubes, and could dramatically cut the cost of shuttling people and materials between the surface and an orbiting station to four per cent of the cost of using rockets.

It's not that bad an idea, as Arthur C Clarke pointed out in his 1979 novel The Fountains of Paradise. It would be a lot easier to build a space elevator on Mars rather than Earth due to the lower gravity and thinner atmosphere.

This may all sound like pie in the sky though the China National Space Administration has made impressive progress in space exploration. Last week, it successfully launched three astronauts into space, who will spend three months constructing the Tiangong space station. Eventually China wants to build an orbital platform that will trump the aging International Space Station.

In May, its Zhurong rover landed on the Martian surface to hunt for water. Considering the entry, descent, and landing process to touchdown safely on the Red Planet is notoriously difficult, it’s admirable that the agency was able to pull off its first-ever attempt at doing so.

Meanwhile, the United States of America has penciled in the 2030s for sending a crew to orbit Mars. ®

PS: RIP Hong Kong’s last pro-democracy paper, the Apple Daily.

More about


Send us news

Other stories you might like