China is adamant about constructing a moon base on the lunar surface in the near future as part of its ever-expanding space program, and the Asian nation is now looking to partner with the European Space Agency (ESA) to aid in implementing such a mission, according to an ESA spokesperson and various Chinese media reports. Tian Yulong, the secretary general for China's space agency, was first to mention the ongoing talks about the future moon base in Chinese state media. The ESA was quick to corroborate the news.
"The Chinese have a very ambitious moon program already in place," Pal Hvistendahl, a spokesman for the ESA, said, according to the Associated Press. "Space has changed since the space race of the '60s. We recognize that to explore space for peaceful purposes, we do international cooperation."
China is a late comer to the international space race and is part of the more recent rush of nations interested in getting back to the moon. Its first manned spaceflight did not occur until 2003, 42 years after Russia's Yuri Gagarin made the first trip into space for humankind.
A decade later, China announced its preparations for a manned mission to the moon and a subsequent establishment of a lunar base.
Following its successful Chang'e-3 lunar mission in 2013, China's state-run media outlet, People's Daily, reported, according to Universe Today, that "Chinese aerospace researchers are working on setting up a lunar base." The People's Daily had taken its cue from a speech by Zhang Yuhua, deputy general director and deputy general designer of the Chang'e-3 probe system.
"In addition to manned lunar landing technology, we are also working on the construction of a lunar base, which will be used for new energy development and living space expansion," Zhang stated during her speech at the Shanghai Science Communication Forum.
CNBC reported in March that Science and Technology Daily, the official newspaper of the Ministry of Science and Technology of China, had quoted system chief architect Zhang Bainan as saying that China was building a manned spacecraft capable of sending as many as six astronauts to the moon in addition to near-Earth orbit (to the Chinese space station). Preliminary missions, as reported by the Inquisitr, include a lander mission for later this year and the first ever landing of a probe on the far side of the moon in 2018.
As for the ESA, the organization has been a strong proponent of a lunar base. Last April, Johann-Dietrich Wörner, director general of the European Space Agency (ESA), suggested an "International Moon Village" that could ultimately becoming a launch-point for missions throughout the Solar System.
"I think we should go first to the Moon and then further on," Wörner said on April 13, according to Space, during a session at the 32nd Space Symposium in Colorado Springs, Colorado called "New Generation Space Leaders Panel: The Future of Human Spaceflight." He added, "I would not call Mars the ultimate goal. I am quite sure humans will go further."
Wörner proposed a "Moon Village," a name chosen purposefully to reflect a place where "different people are gathering with different capabilities, different opportunities" to form an international community. The "gathering" would consist of many actors, including elements from both the private and public sectors.
"But for me, it's also a stepping-stone, a test bed... to go further, for instance, to Mars and beyond."
At present there is no indication of American involvement in the proposed collaboration between China and the 22-member ESA. NASA and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy are currently forbidden by law (enacted in 2011) to engage in any scientific cooperation with China, a legal constraint enacted by the U.S. Congress as a defense against potential Chinese industrial espionage. The ban has also worked to prohibit China's astronauts from visiting the International Space Station and prompted China to launch its own orbiting space station.
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