China plans to send a robotic mission to the moon this November and return it safely to Earth.
Known as Chang’e 5, the mission will be the first robotic mission to return lunar rocks to Earth since the Soviet Union did so in 1976. Chang’e 5 is scheduled to occur at the end of November, according to China’s state-run Xinhua news agency.
Chang’e 5 is specifically being billed as a first step to putting a Chinese astronaut on the moon.
Since launching its first manned mission in 2003, Chinasent up an experimental space station, staged a spacewalk and landed a rover on the moon. The country increased its cooperation in space with Europe and launched its second space station last September.
“They’re moving ahead very rapidly,” Morris Jones, an expert on the Chinese space program, told Voice of America. “They have a very impressive human spaceflight capability. They’ve recently completed their longest space mission to date, which was roughly a month. And they’re preparing probes to go to the moon and deeper into space.”
China’s new space plan claims it will use space for peaceful purposes like scientific research, but also to guarantee the country’s national security and prestige. The plan would make China the first country to soft land a probe on the far side of the moon by 2018, and the second country to operate a Mars probe by 2020.
China intends to invest $2.17 billion into its space program between 2026 and 2030, about three to four times more than the $695 million it spent from 2011 to 2016. The country’s annual space budget will be comparatively less than NASA. The U.S. space agency is spending more on programs not directly related to space exploration.
Meanwhile, NASA hasn’t launched an astronaut into space since 2011 without the help of the Russians, and has been forced by President Barack Obama to delay Mars missions until 2030.
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