China plans to land astronauts on the moon before 2030, giving the clearest signals to date about its ambitions for expanding the country’s presence in space — and setting up a new sphere of rivalry with the United States.
NASA is aiming to send American astronauts back on the moon by the end of 2025, with administrator Bill Nelson describing a Cold warlike space race, only this time against China instead of the Soviet Union.
China made its ambitions clear on Monday, when Lin Xiqiang, deputy director of the China Manned Space Agency, set a 2030 time frame for doing the same and laid out plans for scientific and technical research there.
“The overall goals are to realize China’s first manned landing on the moon before 2030, carry out scientific exploration and related technology demonstrations on the lunar surface, develop a commuting system and short-term stay system for crews, and develop human-robot integrated testing and other key technologies,” Lin said at a news conference at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwestern China on Monday.
“Our astronauts will walk on the moon, collect samples around the landing site and perform some in situ research. This will lead off our manned missions from low Earth orbit to deep space and help deepen mankind’s knowledge about the origin and evolution of the moon and the solar system,” he said, according to state media reports from the news conference.
China’s Shenzhou-16 spacecraft, propelled by a Long March 2F carrier rocket, is scheduled to launch on Tuesday morning to transport three Chinese astronauts from the Jiuquan center in the Gobi Desert to the Tiangong space station.
This will mark the first time a Chinese civilian has gone into space. In addition to two members of the People’s Liberation Army’s Astronaut Division, the space craft will carry Gui Haichao, a professor at Beihang University’s School of Astronautics’ Department of Spacecraft and Launch Vehicle Technology in Beijing.
China has big ambitions in space. It has landed a rover on Mars and a robotic spacecraft on the far side of the moon, and operates a space station in low Earth orbit.
“We have every reason to believe that we have a competitor, a very aggressive competitor, in the Chinese,” Nelson said at the end of 2021, announcing a delay to the United States’ planned lunar landing. “It’s the position of NASA and, I believe, the United States government that we want to be first back on the moon. … And we are getting geared up to go.”
The United States has also been working to establish norms of behavior that would govern activities in space and on the moon by having allied nations sign an agreement known as the Artemis Accords.