China confirms target date for landing taikonauts on moon

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The lunar surface.
NASA

China has successfully reached the lunar surface three times up to now, but none of the missions involved humans setting foot there.

The Asian giant is planning to change that, however, and this week officials at the China Manned Space Engineering Office (CMSEO) confirmed that it’s on track to put its first taikonauts on the lunar surface before the end of this decade.

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The plan is to put two taikonauts on the moon for a period of about six hours before they head back to the lunar orbiter, crewed by a third colleague, for the journey home.

“The program development for major flight products, including the Long March 10 rocket, the Mengzhou crew spacecraft, the lunar lander Lanyue, and the lunar landing suits, are all complete,” Lin Xiqiang, deputy director of CMSEO, said in comments reported by Space.com.

Lin said that the development of mechanical and thermal test equipment for the spacecraft and lander have been “basically completed,” adding that “various rocket engines” are also undergoing hotfire tests. The crew’s launch site is also under construction, close to China’s existing coastal spaceport at Wenchang, Hainan island, about 1,400 miles south of Beijing.

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Looking further ahead, the nation has an even more ambitious lunar goal — to build a permanent international research station on the lunar South Pole by 2040.

China’s interest in our nearest neighbor mirrors NASA’s own plans to put astronauts on the moon in 2026 as part of the Artemis program, a long-term project that’s also expected to involve constructing a permanent base on the lunar surface.

Both China and the U.S. are looking to locate water on the moon, which could be converted to fuel for future rocket launches to deep space. Staring missions from the moon would be more efficient than from Earth as the weaker gravity there would make lifting off easier.

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China’s lunar update came in the same week that the nation sent a new three-person crew to its Tiangong space station in low-Earth orbit, a relatively new facility that’s another reflection of the country’s growing space-based ambitions.

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