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China wants to complete a Mars sample return mission before NASA

Published Nov 18th, 2023 3:47PM EST

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China wants to steal NASA’s thunder by launching a Mars sample return mission that brings back Martian soil and rocks roughly two years before the U.S.-based space agency can. Currently, NASA’s Mars Sample Return mission is hitting a few snags. And those snags may be just enough to get China the chance it has been waiting for.

According to new reports from Science Alert, the Chinese space agency wants to send a crewed mission to Mars within the next decade. In preparation for the arrival of taikonauts on the Martian surface, though, China hopes to complete a Mars sample return of its own two years before NASA’s current proposed mission would end.

The mission will be the third in the China National Space Administration’s Tianwen program, as such it’ll be known as Tianwen-3. The mission will consist of a pair of launches in 2028, which will gather samples on the Martian surface and then return them to the planet sometime in July of 2031.

A concept of the Mars sample retriever that could bring alien germs to Earth
An artist’s concept of a Mars Sample Retrieval Lander that NASA plans to use. China may use a similar design to bring its own samples back. Image source: NASA

It’s unclear if China has any big plans set aside for its Mars sample return mission, but if it does manage to pull it off before NASA, it’ll open some interesting possibilities. It is no secret that China has been working hard to get more established in the space exploration field, and the country has managed some intriguing displays over the past few years.

However, some of those displays have also been cut off much earlier than expected, with the Chinese Mars rover failing to survive a harsh Martian winter earlier this year, making it unable to wake up after a long slumber on the Martian surface. A new paper also says China is also working on new ways to understand the Martian atmosphere.

Armed with the new model of Mars’ atmosphere, as well as plans to pull off its own Mars sample return mission, China is setting itself up to be a big name in the exploration of the Red Planet. How well those plans play out, though, remains to be seen.

Josh Hawkins has been writing for over a decade, covering science, gaming, and tech culture. He also is a top-rated product reviewer with experience in extensively researched product comparisons, headphones, and gaming devices.

Whenever he isn’t busy writing about tech or gadgets, he can usually be found enjoying a new world in a video game, or tinkering with something on his computer.