China will be able to land two to three astronauts on the moon by 2025, with the South Pole the most likely landing site, authorities of the Chinese lunar exploration program said.
Screen shows the virtual animation of the first braking of Chang'e II lunar probe in Beijing Aerospace Control Center in Beijing, capital of China, Oct. 6, 2010. China's second unmanned lunar probe, Chang'e II, completed its first braking Wednesday, which decelerated the satellite and successfully made it enter a 12-hour orbit, according to the Beijing Aerospace Control Center. [Xinhua]
Long Lehao, deputy chief engineer of the program, told the Yangtze Daily yesterday that China will be "technically mature" enough to send humans to the moon by 2025.
"China's current technological and economic power already exceeds that of the United States when it launched the Apollo project" in 1961, said Long. "Within 15 years, China will be capable of landing two or three people on the moon."
The biggest challenge is to develop and build a rocket that weighs about 3,000 tons when launched, Long told the Science and Technology Daily last month.
Meanwhile, the Legal Evening Post quoted Ouyang Ziyuan, chief scientist of the lunar exploration program, as saying that China may be able to land people on the moon by as early as 2020 if the government is resolved to do so.
But experts from the China Aerospace and Technology Corp and the Chinese Academy of Sciences expect the landings to happen some time between 2025 and 2030.
The South Pole is a possible landing point because of its abundant exposure to sunlight, which promises stable temperatures and sufficient energy for the landing craft, Ouyang said.
The location is also better for telecommunications as it always faces the earth, he said.
China's first unmanned lunar probe, Chang'e I, was launched in 2007. It provided high-resolution images of the surface of the moon, and provided estimates of the reserve volume of helium-3, an isotope that can be used in nuclear fusion and is considered a future source of energy for mankind.
Chang'e II, the second unmanned moon probe, was launched on October 1 this year, inaugurating the second phase of the country's three-step lunar exploration program. It is testing key technologies and collecting data for the future launches of Chang'e III and Chang'e IV.
The lunar program will help China to make use of the rich metal reserves and solar power on the moon.