HONG KONG — While President Trump refocuses American industry on the earthbound technologies of the 20th century — coal, steel and aluminum — China is setting its sights on the far reaches of the solar system.
China this week launched a rocket headed for the moon, where for now only an American flag flies, with ambitions to land a spacecraft on its unexplored far side by the end of the year.
Trippy as a visit to the “dark side” of the moon sounds, it is just the most recent mission by the Chinese to advance their space program and supplant the United States as the front-runner in the space race.
Chinese plans include putting a person on the moon and sending a mission to Mars by 2025. Here’s a look at some of China’s boldest recent endeavors.
China on Monday launched a relay satellite, a pivotal first step toward ensuring that controllers could land an unmanned spacecraft on the moon’s far side later this year.
The far side of the moon does not face the Earth, hindering communications with earthbound scientists, and making its previous exploration virtually impossible.
A successful mission would be a significant scientific achievement as well as useful propaganda tool for President Xi Jinping, who sees China’s largely military-run space program as a vehicle for enhancing national prestige.
While China’s mission to the dark side of the moon would be a first for the world, Chinese spacecraft have previously visited the moon.
In 2013, the year Mr. Xi first assumed power, China became the third country — after the United States and the Soviet Union — to steer a spacecraft onto the moon. The rover known as Jade Rabbit operated for more than two years, and allowed researchers to investigate the moon’s surface remotely using spectrometers, and discover a new type of basaltic rock.
A year later, an unmanned Chinese spacecraft orbited the moon to test equipment and techniques for a future lunar mission. It carried a microchip with Chinese music, including a song by Peng Liyuan, a famous singer who is married to Mr. Xi.
Mr. Xi has said the target date for sending an astronaut to the moon is 2025.
China is also only the third country to send its own astronauts to space aboard its own rocket.
The country conducted its first manned mission to space in 2003, and has since sent several other astronauts and put a pair of space stations into orbit.
In 2016, China sent two astronauts to space for 30 days, its longest manned mission to date. The mission was China’s sixth human space launch, and the two astronauts more than doubled the national record for staying in space.
The astronauts docked with a space station, where they conducted experiments in a lab, as well as tested computer, propulsion and life support systems, according to state news media.
China plans to deploy a rover to Mars by 2020, state news media reported in 2016. The rover would carry a remote sensing camera and ground-penetrating radar capable of studying the planet’s soil and water, among other things.
China also plans to “probe asteroids” around 2022, bring Martian samples back to Earth in 2028 and send an exploratory mission to Jupiter around 2029, a top official at the National Space Administration told the state news agency Xinhua in April.
And by 2050, he added, China would have a lunar research station that would be operated by robots and visited occasionally by astronauts.
In 2016, China completed construction on the world’s largest single-dish radio telescope. Likened to a giant wok, astronomers use the telescope, located in Guizhou Province, to chart the shape of the universe and even listen for potential signs of alien life.
Other recent advancements include the launch of the world’s first quantum communications satellite, which promises to improve the security of communications by sending information on photons of light.