While we here at Giant Freakin’ Robot would never claim to be xenophobic, we admit that a good portion of our news about China has to do with their box office totals and their heinous censorship of movies. But we should have been paying more attention to their ascent in the space race, as they’ve moved past exoplanet hunts and their manned trip to the Chinese space station Tiangong 1. In a press statement, the State Administration of Science, Technology, and Industry for National Defense said they are now finished with their plans and construction of an unmanned rover which they intend to land on the moon by the end of this year. (Cue dramatic theremin note.)
The mission is called Chang’e-3, after a mythological character who resided in a lunar palace. The implications of the name are clear, even though it’ll be years before they’re able to send their own astronauts there. But the point is, they aren’t held back by having a lower budget than NASA, or by getting a later start than the U.S. and Russia in the galactic rush. They’re setting goals and they’re reaching them, which has got to make their citizens proud. Incidentally, they set 2020 as the date for their manned lunar mission.
This would be China’s first soft landing on the moon; the Chang’e 1 crash landed in 2009, after completing its mission, and Chang’e 2 is orbiting the moon, awaiting number 3. Personally, I applaud such efforts, even if some may not think it amounts to much beyond a token of their emergence in innovating tech. They could be using that tech for something more permanent.
It’s that permanence of China in space that has some Americans on edge. The Chinese space program is run by the People’s Liberation Army, which has military implications, exacerbated by their tight-lipped approach to information sharing. America has enough problems as it is; to add space weapons to the list of paranoid assumptions is a bit much.
The Obama administration abandoned all American plans of getting a man on the moon again, and is instead focusing on a manned asteroid landing by 2025, and a manned Mars mission by 2030. Though there was some talk last year about possible plans for moon missions, that’s no longer an issue.
“NASA is not going to the moon with a human as a primary project probably in my lifetime,” said NASA administrator Charles Bolden in Washington at a joint meeting of the Space Studies Board and the Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board. “I don’t know how to say it any more plainly. NASA does not have a human lunar mission in its portfolio and we are not planning for one.” I’m less of a patriot when it comes to space, because no one owns it, and any new information is good information in my book.
So China has taken the ball into their court and launched it into orbit. What does everybody think about it?
Below, you can check out the return landing of the Shenzhou-10 from June of this year.