Chinese Government Has Not Approved Human Moon Mission

Chinese Government Has Not Approved Human Moon Mission

The Chinese government has not approved a mission to send Chinese astronauts (“taikonauts”) to the Moon according to Dong Nengli of the China Manned Space Engineering Program. Mr. Dong reportedly made the comment at the International Astronautical Congress (IAC) in Daejeon, South Korea last week and is quoted by Aviation Week and Space Technology. He also said that “China would ‘welcome’ a chance to join the larger international exploration effort that has coalesced around the International Space Station,” according to the magazine.

China’s human lunar plans are often the topic of discussion in U.S. space policy circles, with some human space exploration advocates seemingly interested in attempting to catalyze a “race to the Moon” atmosphere reminiscent of the Apollo era. Mr. Dong did not rule out Chinese human trips to the Moon, but referred only to concept studies that would be carried out in the “third step” of its human space flight program.

China has launched three earth-orbital human space flight missions to date — in 2003 (one taikonaut), 2005 (two taikonauts), and 2008 (three taikonauts, one of whom conducted the first Chinese spacewalk). For many years it has described these flights as part of an evolutionary program leading to an earth orbital space station. The target date for a 60-ton, three-person space station is 2020 according to Mr. Dong. Smaller space stations are planned as early as 2011, but their size is limited to what can be launched with existing Chinese launch vehicles. China is developing a Long March 5 vehicle that will be capable of placing 25 tons into low Earth orbit. Its first flight is scheduled for 2014.

China does have a lunar exploration program today using robotic spacecraft. The Chang’e 1 spacecraft was launched in October 2007 and orbited the Moon for more than a year before crashing into its surface in March 2009. Future spacecraft in this series are being designed to rove on the Moon and to return samples in the latter half of the next decade.

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