China vowed Tuesday to speed up the development of its space industry as it set out its plans to become the first country to soft land a probe on the far side of the moon, by around 2018, and launch its first Mars probe by 2020.
CHINA – “To explore the vast cosmos, develop the space industry and build China into a space power is a dream we pursue unremittingly,” read a white paper setting out the country’s space strategy for the next five years. It says China aims to use space for peaceful purposes and to guarantee national security, and to carry out cutting-edge scientific research.
The white paper, released by the information office of China’s Cabinet, points to the growing ambitions of China’s already rapidly advancing space program. China places great emphasis on the development of its space industry, seen as a symbol of national prestige that will raise the country’s standing in the world. Although the white paper doesn’t mention it, China’s eventual goal is to land an astronaut on the moon.
While Russia and the United States have more experience in manned space travel, China’s military-backed program has made steady progress in a comparatively short time.
Since China conducted its first crewed space mission in 2003, it has staged a spacewalk and landed a rover on the moon in 2013 – the first time humans had soft landed anything on the moon since the 1970s.
Last month, two astronauts returned from a month-long stay aboard China’s Tiangong 2 experimental space station, the country’s sixth and longest crewed mission. A fully functioning, permanently crewed space station is on course to begin operations six years from now and is slated to run for at least a decade.
The white paper reiterated China’s plans to launch its first Mars probe by 2020, saying it would explore and bring back samples from the red planet, explore the Jupiter system and “conduct research into major scientific questions such as the origin and evolution of the solar system, and search for extraterrestrial life.”
The paper says the Chang’e-4 lunar probe will help shed light on the formation and evolution of the moon.
He Qisong, a space security expert at Shanghai University of Political Science and Law, said that achieving mankind’s first soft landing on the far side of the moon is a newly stated goal. It indicates that China has mastered the underlying technology needed to land on a specific area of the lunar surface, he added.
“China never talks big and says something it’s unable to achieve,” he said.
Far side of the Moon
Hemisphere of the Moon that always faces away from Earth
— The far side of the Moon is the hemisphere of the Moon that always faces away from Earth. The far side’s terrain is rugged, with a multitude of impact craters and relatively few flat lunar maria. It has one of the largest craters in the Solar System, the South Pole–Aitken basin. Although both sides of the moon experience two weeks of sunlight followed by two weeks of night, the far side is also referred to as the dark side of the Moon, originally in the sense of “unknown” rather than lack of light.
— About 18 percent of the far side is occasionally visible from Earth due to libration. The remaining 82 percent remained unobserved until 1959, when the Soviet Union’s Luna 3 space probe photographed it. The Soviet Academy of Sciences published the first atlas of the far side in 1960. In 1968, the Apollo 8 mission’s astronauts were the first humans to view this region directly when they orbited the Moon. To date, no human being has ever stood on the surface of the far side of the Moon.
— Astronomers have suggested installing a large radio telescope on the far side, where the Moon would shield it from possible radio interference from Earth.