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Senior Officer Expects Moon Visit by 2036

May 03, 2016     Email"> PrintText Size

China plans to send astronauts to the moon before 2036, a senior People's Liberation Army officer said in the country's first confirmation of a manned lunar exploration program.

Lieutenant General Zhang Yulin, deputy commander of the China Manned Space Program and deputy head of the Central Military Commission's Equipment Development Department, said it will require 15 to 20 years to land astronauts on the lunar surface using technologies and know-how acquired through the nation's space projects.

Zhang made the remarks on Saturday at a conference that marked the first China Space Day, according to a news release on the program's website on Thursday.

It is the first time a Chinese space official has publicly talked about the nation's aspiration to undertake a manned lunar mission. Many scientists have been calling on the government to launch such a program for years.

Pang Zhihao, a researcher of human space activity at the China Academy of Space Technology in Beijing, said that engineers must develop a super-heavy carrier rocket, a manned lunar spacecraft and a space suit suitable for a lunar mission.

"The United States accomplished its manned lunar missions because it had the powerful Saturn V, while the former Soviet Union failed because its N1 rocket wasn't up to the task," he said. "To send our astronauts to the moon, we will need a mighty rocket capable of lifting a payload of at least 100 metric tons into low Earth orbit. That is why our scientists have begun to develop the Long March 9."

He also said a manned lunar spacecraft will be much different from China's existing satellite-based manned spacecraft. It must be able to conduct in-orbit docking and separation as well as make a soft landing, followed by an ascent from the lunar surface.

Moreover, the astronauts' suits for lunar missions will be lighter but technologically sophisticated compared with those used for extravehicular activities, Pang said.

He said the Chang'e-5 unmanned lunar probe, which is scheduled for launch in 2017, will help test technologies and equipment for the manned lunar mission.

Zhang Bonan, chief designer of China's manned spacecraft at China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp, said China has had the economic and technological ability to send astronauts to the moon, and it won't take long for the nation to achieve its goal once the government approves the mission.

However, he said Chinese engineers should not underestimate the difficulty of such a project. (China Daily)

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