China has successfully landed and operated a rover on the surface of Mars, a feat only previously achieved by the United States. It follows Beijing’s successful robotic mission to the Moon to return lunar samples to Earth and comes just weeks after the launch into orbit of the first module of the country’s very own space station. China only sent its first human into space in 2003, but since then its technological capabilities have multiplied. But so too have the controversies. The mission to launch the space station module resulted in the uncontrolled return to Earth of debris from the Long March-5b rocket used, and a good deal of the ‘space junk’ currently orbiting the planet can be blamed on a Chinese missile test back in 2007. China says it has no intention of taking part in the militarisation of space and that its intentions are purely scientific. The country’s been banned from working with the United States and its partners on the International Space Station, but it is forming new alliances - with Beijing and Moscow agreeing to develop a joint base on the Moon. But what are the ultimate goals of China’s space programme? And as technologies needed to take humans to Mars are developed, are we about to witness a new ‘Space Race’? Paul Henley is joined by a panel of expert guests.
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