1972. That was the year the last American mission to the moon – Apollo 17 – took place and the last time any human set foot on its surface. Now, China has officially confirmed that they are aiming to be the first to once again put boots on the lunar surface since that last American landing. Should China succeed in their plans, they would also be the only nation other than the United States to place a human on the moon. China’s space program has picked up in the last couple of decades after a bumpy on-and-off-again history dating back to the 1960s, but they only put their first “taikonaut” into space in 2003. This manned lunar landing would be a pretty impressive feat, then. Just as a point for comparison, the Soviets put the first man into space in 1961 but still have not put an astronaut on the moon.
The Chinese mission to the moon was officially announced in a white paper published on Thursday as part of China’s five-year space plan, which also includes a space station and new satellites. The Chinese government is planning two space flights for 2012 and “‘new technological breakthroughs’ in human space flight” by 2016. Last month, the Chinese space program successfully docked “two unmanned spacecraft” in orbit, lending support and believability to their goal of having a Chinese space station completed in 2016. The manned mission to the lunar surface would come after all of this, by 2020 at the earliest.
In case anyone questions the motives of China’s space program or its placement under the umbrella of the Chinese military, the most recent announcement insists that there is no plan to put weapons into space: “China always adheres to the use of outer space for peaceful purposes and opposes weaponisation [sic] or any arms race in outer space.” Instead, a Chinese official chalks it up to the similarity of the Chinese people to those all over the world: “When looking up at the starry sky, we are full of longing and yearning for the vast universe.”