WENCHANG, CHINA (AP) – China’s latest lunar trip is another milestone in the slow but steady rise of the Asian power plant toward the stars.
China became the third country to put a man in orbit a generation ago, and in 2019 was the first to land on the other side of the moon. Future aspirations include a permanent space station and the recharge of people to the moon more than 50 years after the United States did.
But even before the last lunar mission was released before dawn on Tuesday, one of the program’s top officials said China was not competing with anyone.
“China sets its development goals in the space industry based on its own perspectives on science and engineering technology,” said Pei Zhaoyu, deputy director of the China National Space Agency’s Moon Research and Space Engineering Center hours before Chang. 5 missions started.
“In setting these goals, we don’t put (in front of) rivals,” Pei said.
Whether this is true or not is debatable. China has a national plan to seize global leadership in key technologies, and the space program is a key element of this. Raising the reputation of the ruling Communist Party is also a source of national pride.
Clearly, China’s cautious, incremental approach has been a success since it first put a man into space in 2003 when it joined the former Soviet Union and the United States. This was followed by several crewed missions, the launch of a space lab, the placement of a rover on the relatively unexplored extreme side of the Moon, and this year’s landing operation on Mars.
If successful, the Chang’e 5 mission would be the first time lunar rocks and debris have been brought to Earth since the 1976 Soviet mission. The four modules of the spacecraft exploded on top of a huge Long March-5Y rocket from the Wainchang Launch Center on Hainan Island.
The main task of the mission is to drill 2 meters (about 7 feet) into the surface of the Moon, and approx. Collection of 2 kilograms (4.4 pounds) of rocks and other debris. The lander places them in the landing. The returning capsule brings them back to Earth, landing on the grasslands of the Inner Mongolia region in mid-December.
“Leaving the Chang’e 5 mission would be an impressive achievement for any nation,” said Florida expert Stephen Clark of Spaceflight Now.
China is proud to come to this point largely through its own efforts, although Russia helped train astronauts early on, and the Senzhou space capsule with Chinese crew is based on Russian Soyuz.
While there has been cooperation with other countries, notably the European Space Agency, which has provided follow-up support to Chinese missions, the United States is not one of them.
U.S. law requires congressional approval for cooperation between NASA and China’s military program. Ongoing political and economic debates, notably allegations that China is stealing or forcing the transfer of sensitive trade secrets, are overshadowing the prospects for closer ties.
China’s space program was sometimes seen as a re-creation of the achievements of others, notably the United States and the former Soviet Union. Even China’s permanently built space station is in part a response to its exclusion from the International Space Station, mainly the insistence of the United States.
Other countries are also making progress, as highlighted by the dramatic landing of the American Curiosity Mars rover in 2012 and the return to Earth with samples collected from the asteroid Ryugu next month by Japanese explorer Hayabusa2.
Nevertheless, China “boasts an increasingly sophisticated and proven space knowledge,” said Henry Hertzfeld, director of the Institute of Space Policy at the Elliot School of International Affairs at George Washington University.
Moon exploration remains a priority for China, which is likely to “take the form of a human-machine combination in the future,” Pei told reporters.
The target date for the crew moon mission has not been announced, but Pei says the goal is to build an international lunar research station that can provide long-term support for scientific research activities on the lunar surface.
“Based on scientific needs as well as technical and economic conditions, we will determine when a human lunar landing should be performed,” he said.