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Cruising Past Deimos

The Luoshuan was the third crewed spacecraft to make it to Mars, but the first to return.

 The Chinese and Russians collaborated on technology development, but built entirely different vehicles.  Whereas the Gagarin was a monolithic multi-purpose craft capable of flight, landing and return, the Luoshuan was focused on performance.  Hooks for external tanks allowed the ARC engine to burn large amounts of pure hydrogen on departure from Earth.  Forward and rear tanks of lithium hydride, kept liquid by the waste heat of the nuclear power reactors, provided fuel for the rest of the mission.  The forward heat shield not only allowed for atmospheric braking, but acted as a radiator for the excess reactor heat.  Twin landers, with their own heat shields, allowed for two surface expeditions to the red planet.  The same landers had the ability to land and return from all of the major moons of the solar system.

 The Gagarin beat the Luoshuan landers to the surface, but with its higher performance, the Chinese ship was able to take a shorter route back to Earth and bring its samples of Martian rocks and traces of life back before anyone else.

 And in the years to follow, with their better performance, the Luoshuan and her sister ships became the first crewed vessels to visit Mercury, Jupiter and Ceres.

 Footprints and Scrapings: The Race Across the Solar System, 2029-2048, Dorado Press, 2099 

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