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Adam Minter

Will China Overtake US on Mars Missions? It’s Up to NASA

The space agency should get the funds it needs to ferry rock samples to Earth by 2033. But it also has to fix management and bureaucratic deficiencies.

NASA's illustration of Perseverance on Mars. 

NASA's illustration of Perseverance on Mars. 

Photo Illustration: NASA/Getty Images

In 2033, a U.S. spacecraft will return to Earth carrying the second cache of rocks ever collected from the surface of Mars. The first cache? It will have been collected by China two years earlier, in 2031, according to plans released last week by one of China's top space scientists.

Of course, there's no guarantee that either mission will succeed. But China's impressive recent successes operating on and above the Moon and Mars give the country a better chance at lapping NASA and its partners.