Will Launch First Lunar Probe In April 2007
An official with the Chinese
National Space Administration revealed details Thursday of that
country's plans to launch a series of probes to the moon... and in
the long term, to land humans on its surface.
Reuters reports the first step of that plan will happen next
April, when China launches its first satellite to the moon. That
probe will only orbit the lunar surface -- but it will be followed
a few years later by a remote-controlled lunar rover, according to
Yang Duohe of China's Lunar Exploration Program Center.
A few years after that, China will send a module that will drill
into the lunar surface, collect mineral specimens and return those
samples to Earth... in preparation for a manned flight to the
The announcement shows that China's space program -- which was
first launched 50 years ago -- is stepping up its efforts to show
that China is a serious space contender.
There are still problems to work out before China reaches that
goal, however. Luan Enjie, commander of the LEPC, told Reuters that
engineers are still grappling with issues ranging from how to
remotely pilot such spacecraft, how to handle the wide-ranging
temperatures on the lunar surface, and how to assure that solar
panels and communications antennae remain properly oriented.
China is also working to standardize its launch program, Luan
said, as well as working on ways to increase the thrust of its
rockets -- which is currently approximately 18,000 lbs. He also
said China has too many different types of satellites -- and they
aren't of high-enough quality to assure the successful completion
of such a far-reaching mission.
Those sound like issues similar to what NASA experienced in its
earliest days, as well -- and China has the benefit of being able
to draw upon those experiences today, as well as its association
with the Russian space program. China's Shenzhou manned space
vehicle, which has carried three taikonauts into orbit on two
missions, is similar in design to Russia's successful Soyuz