The race to land humans on Mars looks set for a tight finish.
China aims to send its first crewed mission to the red planet in 2033 — the same year that NASA has set as a target.
Beijing’s plans were revealed by the head of China‘s top rocket maker, Wang Xiaojun, at a space conference in Russia, Reuters reports.
Wang outlined a three-step plan for the expedition.
First, China will send robots to Mars, which will return soil samples and search for potential locations for a base. Next, astronauts will be sent to build a Martian base. Finally, China plans to shuttle fleets of spacecraft between Earth and Mars, and attempt a large-scale development of the red planet.
China plans to make the first crewed mission in 2033, with further launches to follow in 2035, 2037, 2041, and 2043.
Wang, head of the state-owned China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology, said the spacecraft may be powered by nuclear propulsion, which could significantly shorten the travel time.
He also revealed that a “Sky Ladder” system is being studied, which would be formed of multiple space stations providing stops along the journey.
The ambitious timelines will escalate the space rivalry between China and the US, which also aims to send humans to Mars by the 2030s.
In fact, NASA has also earmarked 2033 for the first launch.
Analysts, however, have balked at the timeline. An independent report concluded that “a mission to Mars orbit in 2033 is infeasible from a technology development and schedule perspective” and would not be possible until the late 2030s.
China’s timeline may be similarly optimistic, but the plans will further ignite the race for Mars.