China plans to complete a mission to land a person on the moon by 2030, a government official announced on Monday, in the highest-level confirmation of China’s ambitions for a crewed lunar landing.
Chinese scientists have previously nodded at a 2030 goal in a less formal capacity; for example, the chief designer of China’s lunar exploration program said last month that a 2030 landing would be “no problem.”
“We can clasp the moon in the ninth heaven,” Lin Xiqiang, the deputy director of China’s Manned Space Agency, said at a news conference on Monday, quoting a Mao Zedong poem.
Mr. Lin said the moon landing project, part of the country’s broader Lunar Exploration Project — also known as the Chang’e Project, for the Chinese moon goddess — had “recently” been kick-started, though he did not offer specifics. The project would also seek to enable short-term stays on the lunar surface, as well as collect samples and conduct research, he said.
A manned lunar landing would be a major milestone for China’s, and the world’s, space exploration: No human has been on the moon since the United States’ Apollo missions in the 1960s and ’70s. And it could mark a significant achievement for China in its burgeoning competition with the United States in space. China’s top leader, Xi Jinping, has said that the country should become a “great space power.”
NASA has also announced a plan to put people — including the first woman and first person of color — on the moon again, with a target of 2025. But the Artemis program, as the plan is known, has faced delays. Both Beijing and Washington have also laid out goals of building a research station on the moon and landing people on Mars.
Space has become another arena for U.S.-China tensions, with echoes of the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War. NASA’s administrator, Bill Nelson, has said that the United States should “watch out” for Chinese attempts to dominate the lunar surface and keep Americans out. A Pentagon report last year warned that China could overtake American capabilities in space by 2045.
China’s space program has developed rapidly in recent years, while America’s has often been bogged down by conflicting priorities and changing administrations. China is the only country to have successfully landed on the moon in the 21st century, and in 2019 it also became the first to land a probe on the moon’s far side.
While some have hoped that China and the United States could cooperate on space exploration even as geopolitical tensions rise, a provision in the U.S. law that finances NASA bans direct cooperation with the Chinese space agency or Chinese-owned companies. China has signaled that it will cooperate with Russia on space programs.
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