Beijing (AFP)

The launch on Tuesday to the Moon of the Chang'e 5 probe, responsible for bringing back lunar samples, continues the conquest of space in China: started under Mao 60 years ago, it is now targeting Mars.

Beijing is investing billions of euros to catch up with or even exceed the powers of the sector (United States, European Union, Russia) in terms of exploration, research or launching of satellites.

Among his most ambitious projects: landing a remote-controlled robot on Mars next year, building a large space station by 2022 or sending Chinese people to the Moon by 2030.

Here are the main stages of the conquest of space by China:

- Mao's call -

In 1957, the USSR placed the first human-made machine, Sputnik, in Earth orbit.

The founder of the People's Republic of China, Mao Tse-tung, then launched an appeal to his citizens: "we too will make satellites!".

The first step took shape in 1970. Beijing launched its first satellite using a "Long March" rocket, in reference to the journey of the Red Army which enabled Mao to assert himself as leader of the Chinese Communist Party .

It was not until 2003 that the Asian giant sent the first Chinese into space, astronaut Yang Liwei.

He circled the Earth 14 times in 21 hours.

With this flight, China becomes the third country, after the USSR and the United States, to send a human into space on its own.

Since then, she has regularly conducted manned space missions.

- Modules and rabbit -

China had been deliberately excluded from the International Space Station (ISS) which brings together Americans, Russians, Europeans, Japanese and Canadians.

Since then, she has been trying to build her own.

To achieve this, it first launched a small space module, Tiangong-1 ("Heavenly Palace 1"), placed in orbit in September 2011. It was used in particular for the training of astronauts and for medical experiments.

In 2013, the second Chinese astronaut in space, Wang Yaping, taught a physics lesson there, broadcast live to hundreds of millions of school children and television viewers on Earth.

Tiangong-1 ceased to operate in March 2016. The lab was seen as a preliminary step in building a space station.

Another important date in 2013: the landing on the Moon of the small remote-controlled robot "Jade Rabbit", responsible in particular for taking pictures.

First broken down, it was finally reactivated and evolved on the lunar surface for 31 months - much longer than its supposed lifespan.

In 2016, China launched its second space module, Tiangong-2.

The astronauts notably made technical moorings.

- "The dream of space" -

Under Chinese President Xi Jinping's "dream of space" credo, the country is now aiming even bigger.

Assembly of its space station is expected to begin this year.

It should be completed in 2022. China would then become the third country to build one on its own (after the United States and the USSR).

The Asian giant is also planning to build a base on the Moon.

The head of the Chinese space agency (CNSA) said he was aiming for a manned mission to the lunar star around 2029.

The space program had suffered a rare setback in the summer of 2017 with the failed launch of a Long-March 5 rocket, crucial because it can propel the heavy loads necessary for certain missions.

This setback led to the postponement for three years of the Chang'e 5 mission, finally launched on Tuesday.

China, however, struck a big blow in January 2019 with a world first: the landing of a remote-controlled robot (the "Jade Rabbit 2") on the far side of the Moon.

The country launched in June 2020 the ultimate satellite used to finalize its Beidou navigation system (competitor of the American GPS).

The following month, he sent a probe to Mars.

He should drop a vehicle on Martian soil next May.

Astronauts and scientists have also mentioned the possible sending of Chinese to the Red Planet to a more distant horizon.

© 2020 AFP