China considers Manned Moon Landing following breakthrough Chang’e-3 mission success

by Ken Kremer on January 15, 2014

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Comparison of China’s Chang'e-3 unmanned lunar lander vs. NASA’s Apollo manned lunar spacecraft

Comparison of China’s Chang’e-3 unmanned lunar lander of 2013 vs. NASA’s Apollo manned lunar landing spacecraft of the 1960′s and 1970′s
Story updated

Is China’s Chang’e-3 unmanned lunar lander the opening salvo in an ambitious plan by China to land people on the Moon a decade or so hence?

Will China land humans on the Moon before America returns?

It would seem so based on a new report in the People’s Daily- the official paper of the Communist Party of China – as well as the express science goals following on the heels of the enormous breakthrough for Chinese technology demonstrated by the history making Chang’e-3 Mission.

The People’s Daily reports that “Chinese aerospace researchers are working on setting up a lunar base,” based on a recent speech by Zhang Yuhua, deputy general director and deputy general designer of the Chang’e-3 probe system.

No humans have set foot on the moon’s surface since the last US lunar landing mission when Apollo 17 astronauts Gene Cernan and Harrison ‘Jack’ Schmitt departed 41 years ago on Dec. 14, 1972.

For context, the landing gear span of Chang’e-3 is approximately 4.7 meters vs. 9.07 meters for NASA’s Apollo Lunar Module (LM).

Photo of Chang'e-3 moon lander emblazoned with Chinese national flag taken by the panoramic camera on the Yutu moon rover on Dec. 22, 2013. Credit: CNSA

Photo of Chang’e-3 moon lander emblazoned with Chinese national flag taken by the panoramic camera on the Yutu moon rover on Dec. 22, 2013. Credit: CNSA
When will the US flag return?

Right now China is actively at work on the critical technology required to conduct a manned landing on the Moon, perhaps by the mid-2020’s or later, and scoping out what it would accomplish.

“In addition to manned lunar landing technology, we are also working on the construction of a lunar base, which will be used for new energy development and living space expansion,” said Zhang at a speech at the Shanghai Science Communication Forum. Her speech dealt with what’s next in China’s lunar exploration program.

China’s Yutu lunar rover, deployed by the Chang’e-3 lander, is equipped with a suite of science instruments and a ground penetrating radar aimed at surveying the moon’s geological structure and composition to locate the moon’s natural resources for use by potential future Chinese astronauts.

Portrait photo of Yutu moon rover taken by camera on the Chang'e-3 moon lander on Dec. 15, 2013 shortly after rolling all 6 wheels onto lunar surface.  Credit: Chinese Academy of Sciences

Portrait photo of Yutu moon rover taken by camera on the Chang’e-3 moon lander on Dec. 15, 2013 shortly after rolling all 6 wheels onto lunar surface. Credit: Chinese Academy of Sciences

But the Chinese government hasn’t yet made a firm final decision on sending people to the Moon’s surface.

“The manned lunar landing has not yet secured approval from the national level authorities, but the research and development work is going on,” said Zhang.

Meanwhile the US has absolutely no active plans for a manned lunar landing any time soon.

President Obama cancelled NASA’s manned Constellation “Return to the Moon” program shortly after he assumed office.

And during the 2012 US Presidential campaign, the Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney famously declared “You’re fired” to anyone who would propose a US manned lunar base.

Orion crew capsule, Service Module and 6 ton Launch Abort System (LAS) mock up stack inside the transfer aisle of the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Orion crew capsule, Service Module and 6 ton Launch Abort System (LAS) mock up stack inside the transfer aisle of the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

All that remains of Constellation is the Orion crew module – which was expressly designed to send US astronauts to the Moon and other deep space destinations such as Asteroids and Mars.

NASA hopes to launch a manned Orion capsule atop the new SLS booster on a flight to circle the moon as part of its first crewed mission around 2021 – depending on the budget.

The first Orion capsule will launch on an unmanned Earth orbiting test flight dubbed EFT-1 in mid-September 2014.

However, given the near total lack of reaction from the US political establishment to China’s extremely impressive Chang’e-3 feat and the continuing slashes to NASA’s budget, the outlook for a change in official US Moon policy is certainly not promising.

China and its political leadership – in stark contrast – are clearly thinking long term and has some very practical goals for the proposed lunar base.

“After the future establishment of the lunar base, mankind will conduct energy reconnaissance on the moon, set up industrial and agricultural production bases, make use of the vacuum environment to produce medicines,” Zhang explained according to the People’s Daily.

“I believe that in 100 years, humans will actually be able to live on another planet,” said Zhang.

China also seems interested in international cooperation based on another recent story in the People Daily.

“We are willing to cooperate with all the countries in the world, including the United States and developing countries,” said Xu Dazhe, the new chief of China’s space industry and newly promoted to head the China National Space Administration.

Xu made his remarks at the International Space Exploration Forum held at the US State Department.

However, since 2011, NASA has been banned by official US law from cooperating with China on space projects.

China is wisely taking a step by step approach in its Lunar Exploration programs leading up to the potential manned lunar landing.

With China’s lunar landing architecture now proven by the outstanding success of Chang’e-3, a production line can and has already been set up that will include upgrades potentially leading to the manned mission.

The already approved Chang’e-5 lunar sample return mission is due to liftoff in 2017 and retrieve up to 2 kilograms of pristine rocks and soil from the Moon.

After the completion of the Chang’e-5 mission, the lunar exploration program and the manned space program will be combined to realize a manned lunar landing, Zhang explained according to the People’s Daily.

Meanwhile China is forging ahead with their manned space program. And no one should doubt their resolve.

In 2013 they launched a three person crew to China’s Tiangong-1 space station, reaping valuable technological experience pertinent to manned spaceflight including lunar missions.

By contrast, the US has been forced to rely 100% on the Russian’s to launch American astronauts to the ISS since the forced shutdown of NASA’s space shuttle orbiters in 2011.

China is only the 3rd country in the world to successfully soft land a spacecraft on Earth’s nearest neighbor after the United States and the Soviet Union.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Chang’e-3, Orbital Sciences, SpaceX, commercial space, LADEE, Mars and more news.

Ken Kremer

About 

Dr. Ken Kremer is a speaker, scientist, freelance science journalist (Princeton, NJ) and photographer whose articles, space exploration images and Mars mosaics have appeared in magazines, books, websites and calanders including Astronomy Picture of the Day, NBC, BBC, SPACE.com, Spaceflight Now and the covers of Aviation Week & Space Technology, Spaceflight and the Explorers Club magazines. Ken has presented at numerous educational institutions, civic & religious organizations, museums and astronomy clubs. Ken has reported first hand from the Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral and NASA Wallops on over 40 launches including 8 shuttle launches. He lectures on both Human and Robotic spaceflight - www.kenkremer.com. Follow Ken on Facebook and Twitter

Kevin Frushour January 15, 2014 at 9:27 PM

“Will China land humans on the Moon before America?”

Erm… remember 1969?

Ken Kremer January 15, 2014 at 9:37 PM

did you read the story and see the lead photo?

gopher652003 January 15, 2014 at 10:49 PM

I’m sure he did, but a sentence that is a paragraph in and of itself lacks context. While the article as a whole makes the context clear, the sentence itself is still jarring and out of place due to the lack of temporal context.

Or to put it another way, “it sounds weird when you say it like that”.

fleaflea January 15, 2014 at 11:00 PM

Tell me all that happened.

UFOsMOTHER January 15, 2014 at 10:36 PM

He who dares wins the spoils, if the Republicans in the USA are so against winning the spoils (of which there are many),good luck to China, and may they have great success

john_koenig January 16, 2014 at 1:58 PM

Who canceled Constellation, genius?

gopher652003 January 17, 2014 at 11:50 PM

We all know that neither Republicans nor Democrats were willing to fund Constellation. Nor are they willing to fund the SLS. Nor is either group even willing to put a measly billion dollars a year into commercial crew. NASA is lucky to have got as much money in this budget as it did.

Both Demos and Repus suck when it comes to NASA funding.

anotherhuman January 18, 2014 at 1:08 AM

@john_koenig: I love your monicker…. Sp:99 is still one of my favorite sci-fi series!

Francesco Nicoli January 18, 2014 at 1:31 PM

Who actively kept putting democrats’ administration under enormous pressure and constant attack for the size of the budget?

Obama cut the space programme cause reps obliged him to cut something.

john_koenig January 18, 2014 at 2:07 PM

Bullsh!t. The Democrats controlled both the House and Senate from 2009-2011. The GOP couldn’t do a thing to pressure them (ever heard of Obamacare? Not a single GOP vote.)
So, your boy had to cut a forward thinking program like space exploration, which was already less than one half of one percent of the federal budget but he handed unions billions in his “stimulus” and subsidizes maternity coverage for women over 50 in Obamacare. Brilliant.

donfarkas January 18, 2014 at 8:38 PM

Hey, come on now, John, have you never heard of the filibuster? We saw that happen quite a few times over the past several years. Is it not more likely that Republicans in either the House or Senate could have prevented passage of the Affordable Care Act if they had really wanted to, just as they have successfully done on other occasions with budget issues and most other initiatives favored by President Obama?

I suspect that the GOP let the Affordable Care Act get passed because it created a very generous windfall opportunity for their buddies in the insurance companies and because they had talked Democrats into amending enough “compromises” into the Act resulting in inefficiencies and complexities that it seemed designed to fail.

newpapyrus January 15, 2014 at 10:40 PM

The first nation, or nations, to set up a permanent water and fuel producing outpost on the lunar surface will strategically and economically dominate cis-lunar space and possibly the rest of the solar system.

Marcel F. Williams

meekGee January 15, 2014 at 11:39 PM

a) Putting a lander on the moon in maybe 10 years != producing fuel and water.

b) Producing fuel and water first != “strategically and economically dominating cis-lunar space”, whatever this even means.

c) Having a permanent base on the moon does not help you develop a colony on Mars or the rest of the solar system.

So one must ask: Do three hyperbolic statements a trajectory make?

newpapyrus January 16, 2014 at 1:44 AM

Producing water and fuel at the lunar poles may only require the flip of an electric switch for a mobile microwave water extraction vehicle. And water can easily be coverted into hydrogen and oxygen for rocket fuel.

Being able to provide cheap lunar fuel for reusable vehicles operating within cis-lunar space gives you a huge economic advantage over nations that have to utilize fuel from the Earth’s enormous gravity well.

A permanent fuel producing outpost on the Moon could provide water for mass shielding manned interplanetary vehicles from cosmic radiation and major solar events. And the Moon could also provide fuel for interplanetary vehicles located at the Eart-Moon Lagrange points. The delta v requirements for traveling between the Lagrange points to high Mars orbit are substantially lower than trying to travel from LEO to Mars orbit.

Marcel

meekGee January 16, 2014 at 2:07 AM

Marcel -

I’m addressing the statements in your OP.

Irrespective of what “dominating” means, it’s like you’re convinced that taking over this island is crucial to dominating the continent beyond, and while you’re busy building your island base, a different navy just goes directly to that continent and sets camp there. By the time you’re done with your base, you realize that they’re big and growing fast on the continent, and you still have to cross the ocean, and all your money is tied up in your island base.

newpapyrus January 16, 2014 at 4:55 AM

You can’t get to Mars without fuel and mass shielding. And the cheapest source of fuel and mass shielding is from the Moon– not Earth–even if the vehicle departed from LEO.

The Moon is probably a more valuable piece of real estate than Mars because of its lower gravity well and the fact that it’s only a few days journey to and from the Earth.

Any attempt to get to Mars by bypassing lunar fuel and mass shielding resources would probably be a very risky and wasteful one time stunt.

Marcel

Olaf2 January 16, 2014 at 3:28 PM

But building that ship to get to another continent probably costs so much that it get cancelled ending you in having nothing.

So you are staring at your half built Martian spaceship and no funding.

Olaf2 January 16, 2014 at 3:25 PM

c) If you actually think that Americans will land on Mars in your lifetime, then dream on. Indians and Chinese will be first.

meekGee January 16, 2014 at 3:30 PM

I don’t know Olaf…. Right now the US has more hardware on Mars than anyone else has on the moon….

Malaysian Chink January 16, 2014 at 8:51 PM

The Curiosity costs the tax payers $2.5 billion and with that kind of funding, the Chinese can promise you a Martian grunt return.

The entire Chinese space program is anywhere between 1/6 to 1/10 that of NASA.

The Chinese has stated publicly that they will do a sample return from Mars by 2030 and with that kind of money NASA for the Curiosity, China can do it sooner rather than having just a laser gun zapping at any stones to determine its elemental composition only and nothing else.

To the Chinese, it is all about how much you can do with so little

Richard Haddon January 18, 2014 at 6:25 AM

And so they should.

Brenda Jean Louise January 16, 2014 at 3:50 AM

Let the United States and the rest of the world worry about how to deflect a large asteroid or comet from crashing into the Earth and causing world wide extinction, be able to do interplanetary space travel, or build a large permanent orbiting space station that can build large spaceships with all the bells and roses.

I have to admit that I do see China’s space program being more interested regarding its military aspects. When they successfully blew up an orbiting satellite and managed to pollute the Earth’s satellite orbit zone with dangerous FOD from it, I think their
government spoke it’s intentions clearly (not to mention that we too have military satellites and star wars stuff up there).

BTW, that lead photo looks like the Command Module and LM that the US used for the moon program. I wonder if we sold them the plans on how to make the crafts, and sold them all the old mission control monitoring equipment to support it. LOL

Din Sel January 16, 2014 at 5:16 AM

Ah yes the threat of Chinese military again… they are quite militaristic aren’t they…?

Just a shame that their military expenditure is dwarfed by that of USA… or that they cant afford to put up massive military bases on all four corners of the world…

Nevertheless, it worth noting that China is not the only country to have destroyed a Satellite in Orbit…

“U.S. Navy had been instructed to fire an SM-3 ABM weapon at it, to act as an anti-satellite weapon.

According to the U.S. Government, the primary reason for destroying the satellite was the approximately 1,000 lb (450 kg) of toxic hydrazine fuel contained on board, which could pose health risks to persons in the immediate vicinity of the crash site should any significant amount survive the re-entry. On February 20, 2008, it was announced that the launch was carried out successfully and an explosion was observed consistent with the destruction of the hydrazine fuel tank”

But you see, unlike the evil Chinese testing their weapons for militaristic purposes.. the good old USA was only doing it with the pure intention of saving peoples lives…. Aaahhhhhhhh!!!!

Brenda Jean Louise January 16, 2014 at 5:28 AM

You’ll note that I noted that we have military satellites, and I agree, we did blow up a satellite that posed a hydrazine threat. But China blew up one of their own for no reason but that to show the world that they can blow up satellites too.
My concern is why does China want to exclude the world in their space program, rather than join up with the International program and work with the rest of the world in developing greater space program potential.

Din Sel January 16, 2014 at 5:49 AM

Seriously? Are you that delusional?
China is open to co-operation with any country.

Have you not read the article? NASA is banned by US government from co-operating with Chinese Space Programe…

“After the success of China’s crewed space launch, a Chinese official expressed interest in joining the International Space Station program In 2010.
ESA (European Space Agency) Director-General Jean-Jacques Dordain stated that his agency was ready to propose to the other 4 partners that China, India and South Korea be invited to join the ISS partnership. China has indicated a willingness to cooperate further with other countries on manned exploration”

Reason why China cant join is because of US opposition to it. USA sees China as the only real threat to its hegemony over large parts of the World.
They believe they have a distinct advantage in technology and science. And are unwilling to see Chinese catch up to USA by simply co-operating with NASA and learning everything they know.

I am not saying that US actions are unreasonable. It is only common sense.
I am sure if China was to surpass the World in technology, their “will to co-operate” will be non existent.

But to say China is not willing to co-operate now is false.

Davidake January 16, 2014 at 6:38 AM

Brenda, you really do not belong to this forum, you do not have any clue about China’s space programme. Brenda, sound’s like a blond.

Malaysian Chink January 16, 2014 at 9:11 PM

The Chinese together with the Russians have been submitting a draft resolution for a treaty to the UN to ban any weapons in space many years prior to their ASAT, but the US under Dubya kept on exercising its political posturing without signing on the proposed treaty thinking that the US have ultimate supremacy in space technology.

China had to do what she has to do. The subsequent US ASAT test a year later is only a tit or tat response. IF YU KAN FATT, SOH KEN WEE, The world do not know the difference.

You are only listening to your own lying media.

BTW, the Chinese test is a kinetic kill at 500 miles up and the US is using an old tech of proximity fuse warhead at 250 completely different level of space techno. Please google it.

Malaysian Chink January 16, 2014 at 9:26 PM

Tell which test has more debris in space, the one using just a kinetic impact and the other using explosive

The ultruistic of doing it for the good of humanity for destroying the hydrazine is a bunch of belonies for me

Olaf2 January 16, 2014 at 3:34 PM

The lunar module plans are public available.
But since Chinese tends to be smaller people, you can build them smaller ;-)

Malaysian Chink January 16, 2014 at 9:56 PM

When you do not have any techno knowledge, please do not post.

Do you know what is metallurgy and crystallography, the fundamentals of space science. Not rocket science, not smaller people or bigger people.

BTW, do you know what is BMI, not body mass index.

it is brain mass index, the Orientals have a higher BMI than other people and it is a fact.

A typical bulky 350 pounder linebacker whose brain mass is only a few percentage bigger than a skinny barely 100 pounder Asian

forj January 16, 2014 at 10:15 PM

What a load of BS. You née to cool your jets my friend. Your bias is showing overtly. Shanghai might have a great educational system, but what you just said is basically equivalent to saying you are a superior race. Please stop

Olaf2 January 17, 2014 at 8:28 PM

Whahahn I do not have techno knowledge?

Yeah right!

However your IQ does not allow to detect humour in my post.

SteveZodiacxl9 January 16, 2014 at 7:15 AM

While challenging, I don’t see any benefit for a permanent base on the moon, nor on Mars, for any nation. Mankind should use those efforts, energy and money to address the many important problems and we do have here, on our green earth.

bynaus January 16, 2014 at 11:41 AM

“While challenging, I don’t see any benefit of these voyages to the newly discovered continent of “America”, for any european nation. People of Europe should use those efforts, energy and money to address the many important problems we do have here, on our plague-sickened, war torn home continent…” :) —- Don’t get me wrong, I am not mocking you. But why can’t we do both? If there is not enough money: is everything ELSE we do so important that cutting back on space exploration (which actually pays back in many ways and thus helps solve the problems of this world) really is the worlds best shot at solving its problems? I doubt it.

john_koenig January 16, 2014 at 2:00 PM

The ’70s are way back thataway, hippie.

Olaf2 January 16, 2014 at 3:32 PM

So lets cancel all satellites, GPS satellites, weather satellites, communication satellites and use all that money to buy more weapons and propel us back to the stone age where people lived in harmony with nature that wants to kill them.

newpapyrus January 16, 2014 at 9:06 PM

Guess if our species had simply remained in sub-Saharan Africa, we’d all be better off right now:-) But its ironic that the region where humanity first emerged is now one of the poorest regions of Earth.

Marcel

SteveZodiacxl9 January 17, 2014 at 6:06 AM

Thanks for replying. While your comments make sense, no one has pointed out any single benefit in establishing a permanent base on Mars, which is the topic here.

tel00 January 17, 2014 at 12:57 PM

Here are a few reasons:

1. First, there is the idea that the dinosaurs are extinct because they didn’t have a space program.

2. The spin off technologies would be an economic boon, potentially lifting a lot of people out of poverty.

3. There would be less need to fight over resources that can easily come from space (ie rare and precious metals). It would also potentially lower the cost of those metals, helping the economy.

4. Any nation that establishes a permanent base on another body would perceived to (and probably will) dominate this planet technologically, economically, politically, and (not far behind) militarily. If that is communist China, that isn’t going to exactly help people’s freedom.

Shootist January 16, 2014 at 9:57 AM

A LEM is a LEM by any other name.

Olaf2 January 16, 2014 at 3:22 PM

Go China Go.
But please make the images available to the world.

Malaysian Chink January 16, 2014 at 8:59 PM

The Chinese Chang’e 2 did a very high res detailed mapping of the moon at amazing close range, at 15 km from the lunar surface and it is public domain knowledge now. The Chinese did do something for humanity in this regard.

For the data from the GPR (ground penetrating radar) I am not too sure because this is revenue return for them if the prospect of mining He 3 becomes feasible.

The current US orbiter can come as close as 50 km

Aseem Chiplonkar January 16, 2014 at 5:50 PM

What if the Chinese land on the moon destroy all evidence that US was on the moon and put up Chinese flags all over the place? Its so freaking expensive and far away, US will have nothing else to do but watch it all get destroyed .. lolz

marcosanthonytoledo January 16, 2014 at 6:47 PM

The Republicans believe in the cosmology of the Ptolemaic Sys

Malaysian Chink January 16, 2014 at 9:48 PM

Did you folks notice that the part of contention is the lander, (the one in yellow). look at the Apollo spider landing legs, much longer and bigger and spread eagle wider.

The core lander module of the Chinese one is NOT that much smaller.

The Chinese has indigenously developed an an ultra light alloy for a space material and the Shenzhou spacecraft is extremely lightweight and it owes nothing to any country and it only resembles the Soyuz in shape only. I bet the Russo cannot even re-copy the Shenzhou design which is allegedly or supposedly copied or stolen technology from the Soviets That explains for the smaller landing legs with much less impact when it does the free fall from 15 feet in this final descent phase.

The Apollo CSM approach is utterly inefficient in hindsight. If the Chinese have copied the US then Chinese are in deep S|-|1T right now. Mosit people always think the Chinese copied it from the US. See the rover has 6 wheels. If it is not a copy it should have ONE wheel or half a wheel.

Wait till you see how the Chang’e 5 lander is and you have a pre-cursor of the manned lunar landing That was supposed to design for a Lunar Soil sample return.

That was the test run for lunar automatic rendezvous and autonomous docking followed by the high speed re-entry back to earth

gopher652003 January 17, 2014 at 11:58 PM

Well… I mean technology has advanced a wee bit since the Apollo landings, sure. Materials science has made leaps and bounds, as has computer science. Those increases in tech level alone mean that any future landers that had the same capabilities as those of the Apollo missions could be much smaller and lighter (you wouldn’t have to lug around a room sized computer that has a million times less processing power and storage space than your phone, for one thing).

But that said, it’s also clear that the Chinese “stole” technology from both the Americans and the Soviets for their program. And why wouldn’t they? The Soviets sold their designs to the Chinese, and the Americans made their basic blueprints public knowledge. I don’t knock the Chinese space program for learning from those that came before them. If they had insisted in trying to reinvent the wheel for no good reason at great expense, then I would be knocking them.

It is in no way disgraceful to learn from the mistakes and successes of others.

john_koenig January 18, 2014 at 2:08 PM

Thanks! The show is a lost gem…far better than almost every sci-fi show that came after it.

anotherhuman January 19, 2014 at 3:14 AM

Agreed. When I was a kid, I liked 2d season. As an adult, I prefer 1st season. Either way, this series never gets old for me. RIP Barry Morse, Tony Anholt, Gerry Anderson, et al. They are missed by this fan.

donfarkas January 18, 2014 at 7:58 PM

Please allow me to speculate, extrapolating from the Chinese space program’s rate of progress so far, that the Chinese will likely send a manned mission to land on the moon around 2017 or 2018. Their technological development and capabilities already seem to be much farther along than ours were just a couple of years before we launched the Apollo 11 manned lunar landing mission.

Even from what little I’ve seen about the development of the new Chinese Long March 5 family of rocket launchers, they seem intended to launch various individual components of missions into LEO separately for rendezvous and docking together before the assembled spacecraft stack is sent to leave earth orbit. That approach would be different from the Apollo program’s Saturn V moon rocket that was designed to launch the entire lunar mission spacecraft stack together.

donfarkas January 18, 2014 at 9:11 PM

Please allow me to speculate, extrapolating from the Chinese space program’s rate of progress so far, that the Chinese likely intend to send a manned mission to land on the moon as soon as 2017 or 2018. Their technological capabilities are already much farther developed than ours were when we were just two or three years away from landing the Apollo 11 mission on the moon.

From the little information I have been able to read about the Chinese space program’s development of their new Long March 5 family of rocket launchers, the different booster configurations appear to have been flexibly designed to modularly launch the various lunar mission spacecraft into LEO separately for rendezvous and docking before the assembled stack of spacecraft components are to be sent out of earth orbit. If so, then this would be a different approach from the one used by the Apollo program’s much larger Saturn V moon rocket that was designed to launch the entire stack of lunar spacecraft for the mission into orbit at one time. I believe the first launch of a Long March 5 rocket is said to be scheduled for this year.

donfarkas January 19, 2014 at 1:55 PM

It seems obvious and probably likely that the Chinese space program will be capable of sending a manned mission to the moon a few years earlier than their publicly announced 2020 to 2025 time frame.

meekGee January 16, 2014 at 11:12 AM

I think you’ll find out very soon that you can go to Mars w/o the moon. Sooner than it would take to get established on the Moon.

The Chinese want to land a man on the moon in 10 years.
10 years later, maybe an ISS-sized base.
another 10 years later, something that can maybe produce some stuff.

By that time, we’ll already have people on Mars, and Mars-local resources are much easier to extract (atmospheric CO2, water ice everywhere, and real minerals), so they’ll be ahead and pulling away.

I wish the Chinese will concentrate on the moon. Except once the US starts emphasizing Mars, they’ll change course very quickly.

M Peter Selman January 17, 2014 at 9:21 PM

Using the moon as a resource for propellant might make some sense if future vehicles exclusively employ chemical propulsion. However, proposed systems such as VASIMR and large ion engines can push payloads far more efficiently, drastically reducing the amount of launches needed to assemble and fuel the spacecraft while increasing payload capacity. Former astronaut Franklin Chang Diaz advocates the use of lightweight fission reactors that could send a crew to Mars within two months – cutting down radiation exposure. With fast and efficient, nuclear/solar electric spacecraft, there would be little incentive to mine the moon for fuel. Now please consider the application of momentum exchange tethers – which don’t consume fuel at all. A large spinning tether could one day catch a spacecraft from LEO and toss it to escape velocity. Another design is a tether that could touch down to the lunar surface to pick up or drop off payloads to and from LLO.

meekGee January 16, 2014 at 3:44 PM

See below, but the last Lunar plan did exactly that – overrun its budget and got canceled part-way in. And that plan was barely a lander – nowhere near a self-sustaining resource-producing base. Maybe that island only LOOKS simple.

Ruby January 16, 2014 at 4:13 PM

It takes 5 days to get to the moon. It takes 10 Months to get to the Mars. How could any human survive trapped in a spaceship in 10 months? How do they live during this 10 months? Try a 10 months Journey on earth trapped in a spaceship sees nothing except dark space. It just not feasible to fly human to mars. It is too far away to make the trip for human with flesh. For machines, it is OK.

Robert Gishubl January 16, 2014 at 7:36 PM

To have a sustainable presence on Mars you need a large deep space ship with room to move, grow food and take cargo such as landers and habitat components, as well as radiation shielding. You can not do that with a single launch from earth. Once you start to need to assemble things in orbit getting as much as possible from space rather than earth is much cheaper. In addition to the cost you need a base to house the people to do the final assembly and commissioning.
Having a lunar base providing resources and services will be a great advantage.
Mars Direct etc could be done with maybe 2 launches of SLS MkII but it would only achieve a quick fly by with no sustained presence much like the earlier lunar missions. The cost would also be astronomically high.
Setting up Lunar base for fuel and water, proving hydroponics, soil etc would provide many advantages and cost much less overall.
The Chinese are following a sensible incremental approach, much like SpaceX in developing its rockets, F1, F9, F9 1.1, F9-R and FH. All progressing in incremental stages with the aim of cheaper and more reliable access to space.

newpapyrus January 16, 2014 at 9:02 PM

There was actually very little Constellation funding for its beyond LEO architecture. Almost all of the money was for Ares I development, a partially reusable vehicle (SRBs and Orion capsule) designed to fly to LEO.

Marcel

meekGee January 16, 2014 at 9:02 PM

I am not belittling the Chinese.

The cost of US government missions has indeed become extreme. I think the cost of US private missions will fix that. In a financial-competitive environment, where you spend your own dollars rather than “the program’s dollars”, cost is everything too, and you try to get the most out of every $. Or at least that’s the case for those who win the competition.

I don’t think that if Chinese were given 10x the budget, they’d be moving 10x as fast. In fact, they’d probably be getting just as inefficient as the US programs have become, when cost was not an issue. What you’re seeing is a group of very smart people, traversing paths that have already been explored, using technology that is more advanced than that was used on the first round. They are the first to admit it, it’s not a bad thing. It’s just that it gives some perspective to the rate of improvement that they are achieving.

meekGee January 16, 2014 at 9:04 PM

You give SpaceX as an example. They believe you can have an incremental approach on the way to Mars that does not rely on the moon.
There’s no need to grow plants on ship going from Earth to Mars. There’s a need to grow plants at your colony, but in that respect Mars is of course much superior.

meekGee January 16, 2014 at 9:09 PM

That’s true, but there were estimates for further stages. They weren’t pretty. That’s part of the reason it never went anywhere. Beyond the impossible numbers of Area I/V, even if somehow they got funded, the lunar bit was much worse. (as, admittedly, a NASA Mars plan would have been)
But once transport is solved (and we’re getting there, without requiring cis-lunar infrastructure), the fundamental properties of the habitats will become the dominant consideration. You’ll find out that the Mars base in many ways is simpler, and the moon doesn’t really help you get there.

Robert Gishubl January 16, 2014 at 9:37 PM

See http://www.forbes.com/sites/alexknapp/2012/04/23/spacexs-elon-musk-on-the-business-and-future-of-space-travel/
Elon Musk
“I’m okay with going to the moon, but we’ve seen that movie before and remakes are never as good. It would be more significant to have a base on the Moon, rather than just going back.”

SpaceX ultimate goal is a colony on Mars but first they or going to LEO.

Growing plants is not needed for a fly by and you could get away without it for sustained missions but it would provide a lot of advantages from fresh food, improved atmosphere, improved water recycling and psychological benefits to the crew especially on repeat trips. But only if you are interested in a sustained colony type approach vs flash in the pan publicity stunt.

meekGee January 16, 2014 at 9:50 PM

Correct – SpaceX is going to LEO first, but I don’t think they are stopping to build a base on the moon on the way to Mars.

I don’t know the context of this quote. It doesn’t imply SpaceX is setting up a base on the moon – it implies that just placing a lander there is inconsequential in the grand theme of things.

forj January 16, 2014 at 10:09 PM

We are about to put an astronaut on the international space station for an entire year for exactly this purpose. To study and gain experience with long term human missions in a confined space in order to inform and plan for missions to mars and beyond. 10 months in space isn’t as big if a deal as yon think it is. And I believe we can ge to Mars in less than 10 months if we want. In less than 20 years, we will be on mars

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