Author: Lauren Tousignant
Posted on: New York Post, December 28th, 2016
The China National Space Administration — its version of NASA — has outlined an ambitious five-year plan to become a leader in the international space race. The country hopes to land two probes on the moon by 2018, and launch an exploratory mission to Mars by 2020.
“The white paper sets out our vision of China as a space power, independently researching, innovating, discovering and training specialist personnel,” Wu Yanhua, deputy chief of the space agency, said Tuesday during a press conference, according to China Daily.
China’s Chang’e 4 lunar mission is scheduled to launch in 2018 and aims to be the first-ever probe to explore the moon’s “far” side — the area that never faces Earth. Satellites have photographed this hemisphere since 1959, when the then-Soviet Union’s Luna 3 captured the first images, but there’s yet to be a spacecraft (or an astronaut) to land on its surface.
Before Chang’e 4 launches, China has another probe, the Chang’5, which will dig and collect samples on the moon’s surface. ThChina’s already had one of the more successful lunar missions of the decade. In 2013, it completed the first soft moon landing since the 1970s, where the Chang’e 3 rover discovered a new kind of moon rock. Chang’e is the name of China’s mythical moon goddess.
As for the mission to Mars, China’s probe would collect samples, search for aliens and conduct research into the “origin and evolution of the solar system.”
NASA, Russia, India, Japan and the European Space Agency have collectively attempted 55 Mars exploration missions — less than half have been considered successful. NASA currently has three probes orbiting Mars (MAVEN, Odyssey, MRO) and two rovers (Opportunity and Curiosity) exploring its surface.
“Our overall goal is that, by around 2030, China will be among the major space powers of the world,” Yanhua said.
China was considered a latecomer to the space race, compared to exploration heavyweights like the US and Russia. It didn’t send up its first satellite until a year after NASA’s historic Apollo 11 mission, and the aforementioned Chang’e 3 was its first probe on the moon.
However, China has sent five crews into space since 2003 — joining the US and Russia as the only countries to do so — staged a spacewalk in 2008, and launched its first space lab in 2011, followed by its second in September.e Chang’e 5 is scheduled to launch sometime in 2017.
Yanhua said China’s space agency is still exploring the possibility of putting its first man on the moon, but had no immediate plans.
In 2009, Congress scrapped NASA’s $230 billion Constellation Program — which aimed to send astronauts back to the moon by 2020, and eventually to Mars — for being behind schedule and too expensive. There hasn’t been a man on the moon since NASA’s Apollo 17 mission in 1972.
China said its space program will help protect the country’s national security, but that it is dedicated to “peaceful purposes.” China Daily reported that the country has signed “43 space cooperation agreements or memoranda of understanding with 29 countries, space agencies and international organizations.”
Congress has blocked NASA from working with China since 2011, citing national security concerns. This excludes China from working on the International Space Station.