China Says It Is Preparing For A Manned Lunar Landing

China's last crewed mission to space, Shenzhou-11, launched on October 17, 2016. CG/VCG/Getty Images

China is apparently planning to land humans on the Moon, according to a couple of comments made this week at the Global Space Exploration Conference (GLEX 2017) in Beijing.

In a group interview, Yang Liwei, deputy director general of China Manned Space Agency and China’s first astronaut in 2003, said they were making “preliminary preparations for a manned lunar landing,” reported Xinhua.

Like the manned Apollo missions, this spacecraft would be launched in different parts, namely the manned capsule and the lunar lander. Xinhua claims these would then rendezvous in lunar orbit.

The manned lunar landing plan was also confirmed by Wu Yansheng, president of China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC). A statement from China last year suggested they were hoping to do this by 2036.

Other details are few and far between at the moment. But the country has been making great strides in space, both unmanned and manned exploration.

At the same conference, China said they had four new crewed missions planned over the next five years. The country is also planning to start building its first permanent space station in 2019, the Chinese Space Station (CSS). It currently has an experimental space laboratory called Tiangong-2 in orbit.

This year, they will also select a third group of astronauts, comprising 10 to 12 people, two of which will be women (it’s unclear if these have already been selected).

These astronauts will travel to the CSS for three to six months to perform scientific research. They will have more of a science background than previous Chinese astronauts, known as taikonauts.

China has sent 11 taikonauts to space so far, with the most recent coming last October on their Shenzhou-11 mission.

And all of this seems to be leading towards China’s ultimate goal of landing humans on the Moon. It’s a slightly different approach than the US took in the 1960s, however. Back then, the US performed back-to-back missions in Earth orbit before heading to the lunar surface; they did not build their first space station, Skylab, until after Apollo 17 in 1972.

China has big plans for the Moon. Aside from manned missions, it already has a telescope that’s operational on the surface, and may continue to do so for 30 years, having landed as part of the wider Chang’e-3 mission in 2013. In 2018, it hopes to land a probe on the far side of the Moon, something no one has done before, and it also wants to send a mission to return a lunar sample in November this year.

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