China, the third country to ever launch a human into space, is making its final plans to send Chang’e-3, an unmanned rover, to the Moon’s surface in preparation for its first lunar landing, later this year.
The name Chang’e lends itself to Chinese legend, claiming that a goddess of the same name once lived in a palace on the moon.
China’s Chang’e-1 and Chang’e-2 missions were launched in 2007 and 2010.
Four years ago, China announced that it would be able to put a rover onto the surface of the Moon by 2013. Those statements rang true on Wednesday, when the news came through from the country’s state media.
China’s state media, the State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defence, said that it had now reached its launch phase for the Change’e-3 probe, which means that it is officially at the final stages of preparation for putting a person on the moon. According to the Xinhua news agency, a statement released from the State Administration said:
“Chang’e-3 has officially entered its launch implementation stage following its research and construction period.”
The news agency also reported a statement from Ma Xingrui, who is both the head of China’s space exploration organization as well as chief commander of the lunar program. He said:
“The Chang’e-3 mission makes best use of a plethora of innovative technology. It is an extremely difficult mission, that carries great risk.”
The vessel will be expected to use radio-controlled technology to send back images, while simultaneously probing the planet’s surface for test samples.
Back in June, China sent three astronauts, on the Shenzhou-10, on a 15-day mission to orbit and dock their vessel successfully with a space laboratory.
The space organization also reported that the Chang’e-3 will be launched from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center, based in southwest China and will stay on the Moon, along with another lander, working on its surface for the next few months.
The success of this mission would mean that this would be the country’s first soft-landing on a celestial body since the United States’ Apollo missions from the 1960s and 1970s.
It would also mark the third phase of the country’s lunar exploration program, which involves another rover being sent to the Moon in 2017, to return with more lunar surface samples.
Upon completion of the next phase, China will then send humans to the moon.
Although some critics have taken to social networks to criticize the country’s ambitious moves as “wasteful”, the US has also expressed its concerns that these moves are really a ploy to set up a space-launched weapons system. Others have championed the move, on the Chinese social network, Weibo, encouraging the planting of more Chinese flags on to the Moon’s surface.
The Obama Administration’s decision to desert NASA’s plans for a lunar return will now offer China the opportunity to be the second country to put a man on the moon by the year 2020.
Charles Boden, a NASA administrator spoke at a meeting between the Space Studies Board and the Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board, saying that another lunar landing is not even a primary project and that NASA can only do so many things. He said:
“I don’t know how to say it nay more plainly. NASA does not have a human lunar mission in its portfolio and we are not planning for one.”
Rather, he placed a focus more on human missions to asteroids and Mars. “We intend to do that, and we think it can be done,” Boden said.
But Michael Griffin, former chief administrator at NASA, criticized the Obama Administration’s space plans and NASA’s significance as a key player in the space race by saying, “China will be able to put people on the moon before we will be able to get back.”
In the mean time, as China makes ambitious plans with the Moon, India aims to send a space probe out to orbit Mars this Fall.
Written by: Brucella Newman