While the Obama Administration was redirecting NASA’s space efforts away from human spaceflight, China, Russia and others were moving ahead with ambitious plans, including a manned landing on the moon. Other nations and private interests have followed suit.
Only America has actually landed humans on the Moon so far.
Reports from across the globe describe Beijing’s ambitious lunar exploration plans. In June, reports the Telegraph, Yang Liwei, deputy director general of China Manned Space Agency, announced China “is making preliminary preparations for a manned lunar mission.”
China belongs to the exclusive club, consisting only of the U.S., Russia, and itself that has placed its citizens in space aboard its own rockets.
China’s unmanned 2013 Chang’e3 mission, seen as preparation for an eventual manned landing, placed a lunar rover, called Yutu, onto the moon’s surface. It had multiple cameras, as well as an ultraviolet telescope. The six-wheeled vehicle, powered by solar cells, was lowered onto the moon’s surface from a ramp following the spacecraft’s successful soft landing.
The Planetary Society reports that this year, “China will launch one of its most complex and exciting missions so far, when its Chang’s-5 spacecraft attempts to land on and collect samples from the Moon and then deliver them to Earth…the mission will be an engineering feat and result in some significant science, but it also has some interesting subplots…the fact that the Chang’e-5 will be carrying out a difficult lunar orbit rendezvous rather than a simpler direct return is an indication that the mission is also a small step towards putting [its] astronauts on the Moon.”
Following that success, the China National Space Administration (CNSA), reports Popular Mechanics, “is developing a new crewed spacecraft capable of …landing taikonauts [Chin’a term for astronauts] on the moon, according to the Associated Press. The state-run newspaper Science and Technology Daily cited CNSA engineer Zhang Bainian as saying the new spacecraft would accommodate multiple taikonauts and be similar in design to the Orion spacecraft currently under development by NASA and ESA. China also has some of the most extensive and ambitious unmanned plans to explore the moon in the near future. A sample return mission is planned for this year. CNSA is developing a rover to explore the far side of the moon next year (which would make China the first country land on the far side of the moon), and ultimately land Taikonauts …”
The Popular Mechanics review noted that the Chinese space agency is also developing plans to construct a manned base on the moon, according to Zhang Yuhua, deputy general director and deputy general designer of the Chang’e-3 probe system. “Right now China is actively at work on the critical technology required to conduct a manned landing on the Moon’…’In addition to manned lunar landing technology, we are also working on the construction of a lunar base, which will be used for new energy development and living space expansion,’ said Zhang at a speech at the Shanghai Science Communication Forum.”
Those plans were confirmed by a Spacedaily article. That report noted that “According to Wu Yansheng, general manager of China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC), China is working on an idea for manned lunar landing. The mission will consist of a manned spaceship, a propulsion vehicle and a lunar lander. The manned spaceship and the lunar lander will be sent into circumlunar orbit separately. Yang Liwei, deputy director of the China Manned Space Engineering Office, said that China is in the preliminary stage of its manned lunar program.”
Russia, too, has commenced planning to put its citizens on the lunar surface.
Endgadget reports that “Russia’s Space Agency (Roscosmos) has begun planning for its first manned lunar landing, starting with a recruitment drive for potential cosmonauts. The agency is looking for six to eight trainees with a background in engineering or aviation, or those who already have experience working in the space industry. All interested candidates will go through several stages of psychological, physical and medical tests during the selection process. The chosen eight will have to undergo some intense training until four remain. Those who get the job will pilot Russia’s next-gen reusable manned spacecraft Federatsiya.”
NASA’s emphasis on human spaceflight had been downgraded by the Obama Administration, and is only now returning to a major emphasis on its human spaceflight roots. A number of private concerns took up the slack imposed by the prior White House. The initial stages, from companies around the world, involve unmanned landings.
National Geographic describes the private enterrise competition. “Nearly 50 years after the culmination of the first major race to the moon, in which the United States and the Soviet Union spent fantastic amounts of public money in a bid to land the first humans on the lunar surface, an intriguing new race to our nearest neighbor in space is unfolding—this one largely involving private capital and dramatically lower costs. The most immediate reward, the $20 million Google Lunar XPrize (or GLXP) will be awarded to one of five finalist teams from around the world. They’re the first ever privately funded teams to attempt landing a traveling vehicle on the moon that can transmit high-quality imagery back to Earth… Can someone actually make money venturing out into the great beyond? To a demonstrably wide range of entrepreneurs, scientists, visionaries, evangelists, dreamers, eccentrics, and possible crackpots involved in the burgeoning space industry, the answer is an enthusiastic yes.”
Moon Express seeks to move rapidly ahead. Its’ Lunar Scout expedition is scheduled for this year. Company officials, seeking the LunarXPrize, believe it will be the first commercial voyage to the Moon, and note that “This historic expedition will demonstrate the cost effectiveness of entrepreneurial approaches to space exploration, carrying a diverse manifest of payloads.”