It is no mystery to anyone that China is today an economic, industrial, scientific and technological superpower. During the last two decades, the Asian giant has also set out to be a space power.
Seen this way, it is not surprising that the Chang’e Programthe Chinese lunar exploration program, has already carried out 5 missions achieving important milestones: mapping the Moon in high definition, landing a couple of rover (Planetary Surface Exploration Vehicle) and return 2 kilograms of lunar samples to Earth. And not just the Moon. Mars has also been visited. In 2021, the China National Space Administration (CNSA) sent the Tianwen-1 mission that orbited and managed to land a rover on Martian soil.
In the current decade, the CNSA plans to send another three Chang’e missions that include an orbiter, a lander and more. rover to explore the lunar south pole, as well as the start of construction of a lunar research station in collaboration with its Russian counterparts (Roscosmos) and the countries that wish to join. These would be the initial steps to send a manned mission and set up an outpost on the lunar south pole in the 2030s.
Faced with the advance of the Asians, the glory days of the USA seem distant, when NASA broadcast live the culminating success of the Apollo program: bringing the first humans to the Moon between 1969 and 1972. Since then, the country of North has not returned. Or so it was until now. In 2017, the Artemis program began, which seeks to bring humans back to the satellite and eventually to Mars.
In the medium term, it contemplates the construction of a space station orbiting the satellite and a base at its south pole. All together with partners from the space agencies of some twenty countries (Japan, Canada, United Kingdom, European Union, etc), as well as private ones, among which are SpaceX Y Blue Origin.
This Monday, August 29, will be the great premiere of Artemis. NASA scheduled the early launch of the program’s inaugural mission, which consists of the trip of the Orion spacecraft without a crew aboard the SLS rocket (Space Launch System) until it reaches lunar orbit, and then returns to Earth.
The mission contemplates the deployment of 10 satellites that will carry out scientific investigations of both outer space and the Moon. With this, NASA seeks to test the safe reentry and recovery of the Orion crew module after space travel, which ensures its use in the program’s manned missions.
The space future looks promising. The two superpowers have put their efforts into reaching a new stage in lunar exploration, including sending humans and establishing facilities both in orbit and on the ground. Striking is the fact that both programs point to the south pole of the Moon. This is due to the availability of solid water in that region. Once the Moon is tamed, both programs envision Mars as the next frontier.
It’s only a matter of time to know if it will be Chang’ethe goddess of the Moon in ancient China, or Artemisthe goddess of the Moon of the Hellenes, who achieves victory in this new space race.
Ph.D. in Physical Sciences
Academic Common Engineering Plan
San Sebastian University.