As on Earth so in heaven. Rising contests between the East and the West have been extending from Earth to outer space, the moon and even Mars. On Thursday, China launched the core module of its planned space station to pave the way for construction to begin. Designed to rival the International Space Station (ISS), from which Chinese astronauts have been barred, the assembly of the facility is expected to be completed by the end of next year. Meanwhile, in two breakthroughs, a US Nasa rover successfully launched a small drone helicopter this month that flew for almost a minute under the thin Martian atmosphere before returning to base; another device on the rover managed to generate oxygen from the planet’s carbon dioxide. With transportation and oxygen production becoming technically feasible, manned missions, even the colonisation of Mars, now looks inevitable. China names its Mars rover Zhu Rong after mythical god of war Where the US is going, China is not far behind. Tianwen-1, China’s first interplanetary expedition, has been orbiting Mars since February. A rover is expected to be sent to the planet next month or in June to begin surface exploration and experimentation. While China has been replicating the US space programme step by step, it is learning fast. Russia has announced it will end its partnership with the ISS by 2025. As relations between Moscow and Washington continue to deteriorate, a diplomatic meltdown that mirrors that between China and the US, Russians and Chinese are being drawn ever closer. Greater space cooperation is on the cards. Russia has achieved foremost expertise in the construction of space structures, module by module, as well as rocket delivery of materials and people to and from the ISS. That expertise is likely to be shared with the Chinese. US intelligence report warns of China’s threat in space The new Chinese space station will host research for Chinese and international scientists, offering state-of-the-art equipment. On the other hand, the ISS is near the end of its life, extending at most to 2028. US President Joe Biden may authorise the building of a new station, a prospect that may herald another hi-tech contest between China and the US. What was once science fiction is now real science and politics.