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China announces plan to put boots on the moon before 2030 amid space race with US

China to gear up for ‘a short stay on the lunar surface’

Vishwam Sankaran
Tuesday 30 May 2023 13:15 BST
Related video: Digital AI astronaut ‘Flying Sky’ at the 2023 Space Information Conference in Hangzhou, China

China plans to send astronauts to the moon before 2030 and expand operations of its space station.

The announcement by the country on Monday comes as officials, including Nasa administrator Bill Nelson, have pointed out that the US and China might be engaged in a new-age space race.

As China launched a new three-person crew for its Tiangong space station on Tuesday, Lin Xiqiang, the deputy director of the Chinese Manned Space Agency, confirmed the country’s goals to put boots on the moon before 2030 in a rare press conference.

China will prepare for a “short stay on the lunar surface and human-robotic joint exploration,” he said.

The US is pursuing plans to put its own astronauts back on the lunar surface by the end of 2025 as part of its ongoing Artemis missions.

Mr Nelson said in January that the US was in a new space race with China, adding that geopolitical tensions between the two countries could extend to the moon.

“It is a fact, we’re in a space race,” Mr Nelson told Politico.

The US Department of Defense (DoD), in a 196-page report last year, detailed the state of China’s space programme as of 2021.

“Beijing’s goal is to become a broad-based, fully capable space power. Its rapidly growing space program – second only to the United States in the number of operational satellites – is a source of national pride and part of Chairman Xi Jinping’s ‘China Dream’ to establish a powerful and prosperous China,” the report said.

Over the years, US laws have restricted cooperation and increased competition between the space ambitions of the two global powers.

China has gone on to build its own space station after it was excluded from the International Space Station following US objections to the Chinese space programme’s close ties to the People’s Liberation Army.

The US has also repeatedly expressed concerns about the motives behind some of China’s space launches.

“China is developing other sophisticated space-based capabilities, such as satellite inspection and repair. At least some of these capabilities could also function as a weapon,” the DoD said.

Both China and the US are also reportedly working on developing ideas for permanent crewed bases on the moon.

Last week, a top US military official also said the country is left with “no choice” but to prepare for conflict in outer space, citing China’s ambition of becoming the dominant space power by 2050.

Brigadier general Jesse Morehouse told reporters that the US was “ready to fight tonight in space if we had to”.

“Space power enables our way of life... It enables us to connect with each other over vast distances and its importance in advances in science and technology cannot be understated,” Ben Ogden, a colonel in the US Army and the assistant professor of strategic space studies at the Center for Strategic Leadership, said last week.

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