China’s Moon shot advancing

by Chris Bergin

China has started assembly of their Moon rocket, with an unmanned orbiter scheduled to take a trip around Moon in 2007.

Speaking to the Xinhua News Agency, Luan Enjie – commander of the Chang’e 1 Lunar Orbiter “Round the Moon” project – noted the Moon rocket is being assembled and tested, with the new launch facility and mission control currently taking shape.
China, who have made it no secret that they wish to beat the United States to becoming the first humans on Mars, are throwing vast amounts of money into their exploration program. They begun Moon mission projects in 2004.

Still inexperienced, China only this year conducted their second manned space flight on Shenzhou VI. Their Moon rocket is a larger, more powerful, version of the Shenzhou, with the 2007 test flight following the same historical procedure as the Americans carried out with their Apollo program in the 1960s.

However, a projected date for a manned mission to the Moon remains locked inside the secretive nation, with officials sticking to their previous claim of ‘before 2020’ as their scheduled target. The United States is currently aiming for their second series of manned missions to the Moon in 2018.

The States has the edge on what is becoming a four-way ‘space race’ – alongside China, Russia and Japan – due to their previous Apollo experience, with their new phase of exploration incorporating much of the ground work and knowledge gained from the 1960s and early 70s, in which they undertook six manned missions to the Moon – still the only nation on Earth to land a man on the Moon.

The Chinese admit they’ve already run into problems – albeit whilst claiming they’ve now found several solutions to their technical issues.

‘Our technical staff have solved many crucial technical problems by attacking technological focal points, assembling systems and conducting a range of experiments,’ an official was quoted by Xinhua.

One United Space Alliance engineer, who worked on the Apollo project, believes China is blowing ‘hot air’ over their ambitions, using the project as ‘propaganda’ for its people, as the country advances its commerical power on the world’s marketplace.

‘If they think they can advance from their first man in space in 2003 – and to date just two manned space flights – to a manned mission to the Moon that competes with the planned US timeline, then they are in for some surprises,’ the engineer – who asked not to be named in this article – said.

‘The United States pumped hundreds of billions of dollars into our Apollo project – and that was back in the 60s. Add in the good fortune we had with the Saturn V, the brilliance of thousands of engineers and scientists, plus the pure bravery of the astronauts, well it’s my opinion that China is trying to create a level of national pride in having ambitious targets – but that does not gain you experience and without everything coming together, and that does not gain you a manned Moon mission.’

Meanwhile, China is aiming for its third manned space flight in 2007, with a five day orbit being used to further test their Shenzhou launch system.

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