Cover image designer/Yu Peng
It's been 58 years since Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first person to journey into space, heralding the beginning of the space era for mankind.
With humans' increasing ambitions in space exploration, as well as the rapid sci-tech development, our imagination about the universe is no longer confined to science fiction and fantasy novels, having turned into reality.
What is next for humans in their quest to unlock the mysteries of the universe? Who will change the game?
Here are some possible options.
Space stations, home among the stars
The United States has proposed to end direct financial support for the multi-nation space project International Space Station (ISS) by 2025. But as NASA wrestles with what to do with the ISS when it retires, China is propelling its space dream to new heights. Beijing has announced its plan for the country's first manned space station, set to be completed around 2022.
The space station will boast several platforms designated for cooperation with scientists from other nations. China is willing to carry out international communication about the development of equipment, joint training and other space concerns, according to Yang Liwei, China's first astronaut.
Whether China will be the only nation to run a space station in the near future is unknown. But what's certain is that space stations will not cease to be inhabited by humans as the search for new homes in the solar system and beyond continues.
Back to the moon, with global efforts
Gagarin's space travel was a triumph for the Soviet Union amid its space race with the United States, although the latter reached the goal only days later.
However, things changed during the competition to set foot on the moon. This time around, Americans made history after Neil Armstrong successfully landed there.
Now, nearly half a century later, the United States plans to maintain its record, announcing its ambitious goal to send more American astronauts to the moon.
"We're in a space race today, just as we were in the 1960s," said Vice President Mike Pence as the country celebrated the 50th anniversary of Armstrong's moonwalk.
Although echoing Pence with confidence, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine still values teamwork by international partners over competition.
"Collaborations will enable human expansion across the solar system and bring back to Earth new knowledge and opportunities," said the agency in a statement.
Private companies, game changers?
Commercial space exploration has accounted for more than four-fifths of the global space economy, according to data released by the U.S. Space Foundation.
Filling a huge gap in the government's need to cut funding for space missions, private space entrepreneurs have emerged as a force not be underestimated.
Even in the market of manned space travel, government-sponsored agencies are being challenged.
Elon Musk-led SpaceX plans to launch a crew on their Dragon capsule this year, and Blue Origin, the space venture founded by Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos, is also planning to send its first crew on a suborbital space trip this year.
Could the private sector revolutionize the space race? Time will tell.