A Sputnik Moment?

Earlier this month I was somewhat obsessively following the story of China’s space program and U.S. concerns about a looming "Sputnik moment" with China. Well, it looks like using "Sputnik" and China in the same breath may be appropriate as China teams up with Russia for a mission to Mars.

China and Russia are planning a joint mission to Mars that will not only bring samples back to earth but also land on one of the red planet’s tiny moons, a Chinese space scientist here has said.

SputnikYe Peijian, a leading scientist with the Chinese Research Institute of Space Technology, made the announcement at an ongoing forum on China’s space technology development.

Ye said Russia will launch the spacecraft in 2009 and it will carry China-made survey equipment. It will collect samples on Mars and the planet’s nearest moon.

Sun Laiyan, administrator of the China National Space Administration said last month at an international space conference that China is actively planning its deep space exploration over the next five years, focusing on lunar and Mars exploration.

"We will encourage other countries to take part in space science programs initiated by China, and Chinese scientists will participate in international space science programs," Sun said.

The lunar mission definitely jibes with previous reports of China’s space-related ambitions. And the invitation for other countries to take part might bode well for similar U.S. ambitions, in light of China’s earlier invitation to a NASA official to visit the country next month, and check out their space program.

But it sounds like the Russians are already on board. So does this qualify as a "Sputnik Moment" yet?