China seeks big step on the moon

World | ASSOCIATED PRESS 25 Nov 2020

China's latest trip to the moon is another milestone in the Asian powerhouse's slow but steady ascent to the stars.

China became the third country to put a person into orbit 17 years ago and the first to land on the far side of the moon in 2019. Future ambitions include putting people on the moon more than 50 years after the Americans.

But even before the latest mission lifted off from Hainan before dawn yesterday, a top official maintained that China is not competing with anyone.

"China will set its development goals in the space industry based on its own considerations of science and engineering technology," Pei Zhaoyu, deputy director of the Lunar Exploration and Space Engineering Center at the China National Space Administration, said hours before the Chang'e 5 mission was launched.

China aims to join the United States, Europe and Japan in the top ranks of technology producers, and the space program has been a major component of that. And its incremental approach has racked up success after success since it first put a person in space in 2003.

The Chang'e 5 mission, if successful, will be the first time moon rocks are brought to Earth since a 1976 Soviet mission.

The main task is to drill two meters into the moon's surface and scoop up about two kilograms of rocks and other material. The lander will deposit them in an ascender, and then a return capsule will deliver them back to Earth, landing on the grasslands of Inner Mongolia in mid-December.

Other countries are also forging ahead, underscored by the dramatic landing of America's Curiosity Mars rover in 2012 and the return to Earth next month of Japan's explorer Hayabusa2 with samples from the asteroid Ryugu.

No target date for a Chinese crewed mission to the moon has been announced, but Pei said a goal down the line is to build an international lunar research station that can provide long-term support for scientific exploration activities on the lunar surface.

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