The last time humans were on the surface of the Moon was decades ago, so it might seem foolish for space agencies like NASA, Roscosmos, the ESA, and China’s CNSA to be dreaming up lunar “bases” of any kind. As wild as it sounds, that’s exactly what is happening, and thus far China has appeared to be the most eager to stake its claim with a constant human presence on Earth’s tiny satellite. Now, in the wake of news that China wants to work with Russia to further its lunar exploration ambitions, the country is revealing some additional details of how it plans to make it happen.
In a recent interview with China Space News, China’s lunar exploration design chief Wu Weiren laid out the plans for a trio of missions that will lay the groundwork for a lunar base on the South Pole of the Moon. The mission follows the most recent Chang’e-5 mission which sent samples of lunar material back to Earth.
China sat out the “space race” that took place many decades ago but in recent years it has been doing its best to make up for the lost time. The country has already launched robotic missions to the Moon and Mars and successfully landed on the far side of the Moon, making it the only country to accomplish that feat. More recently, the sample return mission made history thanks to the incredible speed at which the country landed, collected samples, and shot them back into space.
Now, with a formal handshake between China and Russia — and China’s history of talking openly about building a base on the Moon — Chinese officials have laid out the mission that will serve as the first steps toward accomplishing that goal. It will start with Chang’e-6, which will retrieve samples from the South Pole of the Moon, following by Chang’e-7 which will attempt to collect data on the resources available around the location where the Moon base might be built. Chang’e-8 will then test the technologies that will power the base. It will be the last mission before China begins construction of the base, according to the current timeline.
It’s an ambitious plan, and China says the lunar station should be ready by about 2031. However, based on the rate at which space exploration missions are delayed, that might be pushing things a bit. Nevertheless, the country seems 100% committed to making the lunar station happen, and it would seem that Russia is also on board.
It’ll be interesting to see how the United States and NASA react to these plans, especially as China begins launching the missions that will lay the groundwork for the base. NASA has talked about starting a lunar base as well, but right now the space agency appears far more interested in getting its Lunar Gateway off the ground, as part of the Artemis program.