China has announced plans to place astronauts on the moon before 2030 and expand its orbiting space station, as part of its burgeoning space program. The announcement comes amid a rivalry with the U.S. for reaching new milestones in outer space, reflecting their competition for influence on global events. The U.S. aims to put astronauts back on the lunar surface by the end of 2025 as part of a renewed commitment to crewed missions, aided by private sector players such as SpaceX and Blue Origin.
The deputy director of China’s space agency confirmed the twin objectives at a news conference but gave no specific dates. The agency also introduced three astronauts who will head to the country’s space station in a launch scheduled for Tuesday morning. They’ll replace a crew that’s been on the orbiting station for six months.
China is first preparing for a “short stay on the lunar surface and human-robotic joint exploration,” Deputy Director of the Chinese Manned Space Agency Lin Xiqiang told reporters at the rare briefing by the military-run program. A schedule of two crewed missions a year is “sufficient for carrying out our objectives,” Lin said.
China’s first manned space mission in 2003 made it the third country after the USSR and the U.S. to put a person into space. China built its own space station after it was excluded from the International Space Station, largely due to U.S. objections over the Chinese space programs’ intimate ties to the PLA.
Space is increasingly seen as a new area of competition between China and the United States, one a highly centralized, one-party state, the other a democracy where the partisan divide largely evaporates over the issues of relations with China and space exploration. Plans for permanent crewed bases on the moon are also being considered by both countries, raising questions about rights and interests on the lunar surface.
In addition to their lunar programs, the U.S. and China have also landed rovers on Mars, and Beijing plans to follow the U.S. in landing a spacecraft on an asteroid. Other countries and organizations ranging from the India and the United Arab Emirates to Israel and the European Union are also planning lunar missions.