At least that’s what we got from the breathy announcements of China’s space program over the weekend. Not only does it plan on being the second country ever to do a manned moon landing, it also wants to launch a space station, lab and probes to explore Mars and Venus.
“China has the full capacity to accomplish Mars exploration by 2013,” said Ye Pejian, Commander in Chief of China’s lunar exploration program (nicknamed, quite adorably, the Chang’e Program, after the legend of the woman on the moon). He added that the Venus probe would come in 2015 and the first manned moon landing will hopefully happen in 2025.
China’s space ambitions are nothing new. In 2000, the government issued a White Paper on the country’s space activities, which set the initial goal for moon exploration as well as a clear plan for preliminary deep space research.
From an article written about their ambitions at the time:
The first research organization specializing in space robotics, the National Aerospace High Technology Space Robotic Engineering Research Center, has been established for the moon landing program. According to space robotics specialists at the center, space robots will take on key lunar exploration task before Chinese astronauts first set foot on the moon, playing an important role in China’s space activities including the servicing of satellites and the carrying out of scientific experiments in space. China hopes to make a contribution to the setting up of an international moon base station in the future. The space robots used for moon surface exploration are small and agile. They can move nimbly, climb slopes, get around obstacles, cope with the moon’s rough terrain, withstand huge temperature differences, and survive radiation.
Scientists predict that one of China’s most significant achievements in 21st century will be to set up a “moon city” using solar energy. The surplus energy will then be transmitted to storage centers back on earth.
Once China successfully implements a manned moon landing, the country will become a founding member of the international moon colonization club. Scientists also predict Mars will be China’s next goal.
In fact, the newly announced schedule actually represents a delay in plans (abeit just a small one) from what CLEP made back in 2006, when a deputy head told Hong Kong reporters that the Chinese would be moonwalking by 2024.
But delays are probably a good thing – while China’s first taikonaut, Yang Liwei, managed to get back to Earth in one piece after China’s first spacewalk, he also very possibly could have died. A flaw in the Shenzhou landing shuttle meant he was exposed to four Gs of force and “infrasonic waves” for 26 seconds. His lip split, drenching his face in blood, which camera crews then dutifully mopped up before reshooting the opening of his hatch. Hopefully a less ambitious timetable means that China’s first manned moon mission won’t need to be reedited.
By the way, Chinese analysts stressed, worries that this is the beginning of an outer-space arms race are unfounded. China just wants to plant its flag out there for the good of all mankind, probably in the same way it did in the South China Sea.