Now, however, America is more concerned with practical matters. NASA’s funding is waning, as is support for its overall mission. Landing a human on Mars will be a monumental event, but more than likely it will not be remembered as a quintessentially American achievement in the same way as the Moon landings. The US is no longer struggling to assert itself as the world’s most powerful force of personality — but China is. This rising nation has more reason than any other to make loud, unmistakable examples of its own potential, and once again space presents itself as the most viable stage on which to do so.

This week the China National Space Administration (CNSA) announced that it has finished construction of its first lunar landing module. It is now ready to move Chang’e 3 to the “launch implementation phase,” and fully expects to launch China’s first moon landing mission by the end of the year. This will be an unmanned mission, but given that China only just launched its first lunar orbiter, Chang’e 1, in 2007, the military-led space agency is making remarkably quick progress.