How China may be the next to land on the moon

Aug 27, 2012 by Sebastien Blanc
Chinese astronauts Liu Wang (centre), Jing Haipeng (left) and Liu Yang in the Shenzhou-9 spacecraft during a manned space mission which includes China's first female astronaut on June 24. Neil Armstrong's 1969 lunar landing marked a pinnacle of US technological achievement, defining what many saw as the American century, but the next person to set foot on the moon will likely be Chinese.

Neil Armstrong's 1969 lunar landing marked a pinnacle of US technological achievement, defining what many saw as the American century, but the next person to set foot on the moon will likely be Chinese.

As the United States has scaled back its manned space programme to cut costs—a move strongly criticised by Armstrong, who died on Saturday—Asian nations have aggressively expanded into space exploration.

China, Japan and India all have their own space programmes. New Delhi, which envisages its first in 2016, recently unveiled to launch a space probe that would orbit Mars.

Japan participates in the programme and launched its first in 2007. It is planning a follow-up that it hopes will find " or minerals containing water" on an asteroid.

But experts say that China, which as recently as the 1980s was focused solely on developing satellites, is the closest to landing an astronaut on the moon.

Beijing launched its manned space programme in 1999 and has developed rapidly since, sending its first astronaut into space in 2003 and completing a in 2008.

This year, it conducted its first manned space docking—the latest step towards setting up a space station—during a mission that included its first woman in space.

US astronauts Neil Armstrong and "Buzz" Aldrin deploy the US flag on the lunar surface during the Apollo 11 lunar landing mission in 1969. Armstrong's 1969 lunar landing marked a pinnacle of US technological achievement, defining what many saw as the American century, but the next person to set foot on the moon will likely be Chinese.

In its last white paper on space, China said it was working towards landing a man on the moon—a feat so far only achieved by the United States, most recently in 1972—although it did not give a time frame.

It will attempt to land an exploratory craft on the moon for the first time in the second half of 2013 and transmit back a survey of the .

"Nobody knows where the next astronauts on the moon will come from. But I expect there is a good chance that they will be Chinese," said Morris Jones, an Australian space expert.

"China's space programme is moving steadily forward. If they continue at this pace, they will develop the capability to reach the moon around 2030."

China's space programme remains far behind that of the United States—as evidenced by the fact that the recent manual space docking trumpeted by Beijing was mastered by the United States in the 1960s.

US President Barack Obama said in 2010 he would drop the costly Constellation space programme, killing off future moon exploration.

A Japanese H-IIB rocket lifts off from the Tanegashima Space Centre in the southern island of Tanegashima on July 21. Japan participates in the International Space Station programme and launched its first lunar probe in 2007. It is planning a follow-up that it hopes will find "organic substances or minerals containing water" on an asteroid.

But the United States is developing a new rocket, and this month landed a rover the size of a car on Mars for a two-year mission to explore the Red Planet for signs it could support life.

Beijing has spent about 39 billion yuan ($6.1 billion) on its manned space programme since it began 20 years ago, state media have said.

It sees the programme as a symbol of its rising global stature, growing technical expertise, and the Communist Party's success in turning around the fortunes of the once poverty-stricken nation.

Experts, however, say national pride is just one of the motivating factors in China's ambitious space programme.

"Trips to the moon have always involved prestige, but there is also science," said Jones. "A new trend could involve mining the moon for nuclear fuel. China has made no secret of their interest in this possibility."

Explore further: Manchester scientists boost NASA's missions to Mars

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

China to land first moon probe next year (Update)

Jul 31, 2012

China has said it will land an exploratory craft on the moon for the first time next year, as part of an ambitious space programme that includes a long-term plan to put a man on the moon.

China to launch manned spacecraft in June

Jun 09, 2012

China will launch a spacecraft this month to conduct its first manned space docking, state media said Saturday, the latest step in a plan aimed at giving the country a permanent space station by 2020.

China preps next lunar space mission

Sep 10, 2010

China is on track to launch its second lunar satellite by year's end, as the country pursues its plans for a manned mission to the moon by 2020, state media said Friday.

US lunar pull-out leaves China shooting for moon

Feb 21, 2010

China aims to land its first astronauts on the moon within a decade at the dawn of a new era of manned space exploration -- a race it now leads thanks to the US decision to drop its lunar programme.

Recommended for you

ESA image: The gold standard

5 hours ago

The Eutelsat-9B satellite with its EDRS-A payload is shown in the anechoic test chamber of Airbus Defence and Space in Toulouse, France, having completed its final antenna pattern tests today.

Frost-covered chaos on Mars

5 hours ago

Thanks to a break in the dusty 'weather' over the giant Hellas Basin at the beginning of this year, ESA's Mars Express was able to look down into the seven kilometre-deep basin and onto the frosty surface ...

Rosetta's comet: In the shadow of the coma

12 hours ago

This NAVCAM mosaic comprises four individual images taken on 20 November from a distance of 30.8 km from the centre of Comet 67P/C-G. The image resolution is 2.6 m/pixel, so each original 1024 x 1024 pixel ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.