August 28, 2012
China Looks To Be Next To Put Man On The Moon
Brett Smith for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
The passing of Neil Armstrong on Saturday appears to be coinciding with a decline in American manned space exploration, as Asian countries develop plans to expand their footprint on the moon and in outer space.
China, Japan, and India have all unveiled aggressive space initiatives in the recent months and years. New Delhi has said it plans to launch the first manned mission by 2016 and a Mars orbiter in the coming years. The Japanese already participate in the International Space Station program and have discussed studying asteroids for potential mineral extraction.
But China has emerged as the most likely successor to the United States and its decades-long dominance in space exploration. The Chinese manned space program began in earnest in 1999 and sent the country´s first astronaut into space in 2003. In, 2008 a Chinese astronaut completed the nation´s first space walk.
Beijing also has lofty plans for the future of its aeronautics program. One of the government´s most recent press releases said they were working towards landing a man on the moon. In a potential precursor to landing a Chinese citizen on the moon, the country will attempt to land a craft on the moon in the second half of 2013. The moon lander is also expected to perform a survey of the lunar surface.
"Nobody knows where the next astronauts on the moon will come from. But I expect there is a good chance that they will be Chinese," said Morris Jones, an Australian space expert.
"China's space program is moving steadily forward. If they continue at this pace, they will develop the capability to reach the moon around 2030,” he said.
China´s space agency has also begun taking steps toward the country´s very own space station. A state news agency reported in July that a next-generation rocket engine powered by liquid oxygen was successfully tested.
However, fears of Chinese space dominance may be misplaced–at least for now. The Communist country´s first space docking that was performed this year was perfected by the U.S. in the 1960s.
For their part, the Americans are still making progress in the space race, albeit not as fast as some might like. The SUV-sized Curiosity Rover stands on the Martian surface partially as a testament to NASA´s on-going ability to achieve groundbreaking feats.
NASA is also developing a new ℠megarocket´ that the agency expects to become the backbone of American space exploration for the next few decades. Budget constraints have kept the project to a meager $18 billion, but when completed the rocket is designed to lift 70 metric tons into orbit, three times the weight of today´s most powerful rockets.
By comparison, Beijing has spent a total of $6.1 billion on its manned space program, according to state media reports. Seen as a symbol of Communist Party's success in turning around the nation´s economy, some experts say that the Chinese space program also has more practical goals.
"Trips to the moon have always involved prestige, but there is also science," said Jones. "A new trend could involve mining the moon for nuclear fuel. China has made no secret of their interest in this possibility."