Tags: China | Wants | Manned | Base | the | Moon

China Wants Manned Base on the Moon

Wednesday, 22 May 2002 12:00 AM

The ambitious agenda has emerged at an exhibition on space technology, where scientists in charge of the country's space program have been speaking in uncharacteristically open terms about the plans.

"China is expected to complete its first exploration of the moon in 2010, and will establish a base on the moon as we did in the South Pole and the North Pole," said the program's chief scientist, Ouyang Ziyuan, according to the official People's Daily.

Beijing Morning Post quoted him as elaborating that the base would be used to "mine [the moon's] riches for the benefit of humanity."

Resources believed to be on the moon include iron, titanium, helium-3 and water ice, Ouyang said.

Helium-3, an isotope of the helium gas used in blimps, is seen by some scientists as the perfect energy source for the future. Hard to find on Earth, it is plentiful on the moon.

Water ice is important because the presence of water could provide invaluable local sources of oxygen and hydrogen, used for rocket fuel, as well as doing away with the need for expensive shipping of water supplies from Earth for any manned lunar operation.

After the Chinese media reports appeared, Ouyang was quoted by BBC News Online's science editor, Dr. David Whitehouse, as playing down the idea of a manned mission to the moon soon.

"We are not setting a specific date for a landing on the moon," he said. "We are just at the start of preparing plans for our exploration of the moon."

Ouyang repeated his view that the moon could provide energy and resources for Earth.

"Whoever first conquers the moon will benefit first," he told Whitehouse.

Ouyang and other scientists have been speaking at events organized during China's National Science Week, which ends on Friday.

The scientists said short-term plans included sending a moon explorer satellite to survey surface conditions and resources.

Amid great fanfare, China last March 25 carried out a successful launch of its Shenzhou-3 space capsule, which scientists said was capable of carrying human beings. Shenzhou means "divine vessel."

Propelled into space by the powerful Long March rocket, it carried two dummy astronauts to test life-support systems, and fell to Earth a week later after orbiting the Earth 108 times. It left an orbital module aloft to carry out further experiments.

It was preceded by earlier prototypes: Shenzhou-2, which flew for a week in January 2001, and Shenzhou-1, whose one-day trip took place in November 1999.

An unmanned Shenzhou-4 spacecraft could be tested as early as later this year.

Expert observers differ over whether it will be Shenzhou-5 or Shenzhou-6 that carries the first astronauts, but generally predict a manned flight by 2005. Only the U.S. and Russia have succeeded in putting astronauts into orbit.

Twelve astronauts selected from several thousand fighter pilot applicants are reported by Chinese media to be undergoing intensive training. Their identities and training program are being kept secret.

Though the U.S. and Russia have sent astronauts into space, China could be the first to put more than one person into space on a first outing. The Shenzhou is large enough to carry up to three.

Richard Fisher of the Jamestown Foundation in Washington, D.C., said in a recent article that China's space program was important to Beijing, not just for technological and economic reasons, but for political and military ones too.

President Jiang Zemin, who had attended the launch of Shenzhou-3, "clearly hopes to identify the Party and himself with China's 'best and brightest' and their stellar accomplishments," he said.

When Jiang attended the launch in March, he had made no effort to maintain a distance between the space program and military matters.

Instead he praised the engineers for their "strenuous efforts and important contributions to China's space industry and military modernization," urging them "to secure new victories in the manned spaceflight project as well as in the whole space industry and in defense technology."

Jiang had publicly identified a senior People's Liberation Army (PLA) general as "chief director of the national manned space program."

In Fisher's view, it was unlikely Beijing would used its manned space program for military missions. But China was pursuing an ambitious program of military satellites, which could be used to provide support for aggression against Taiwan, he noted.

Fisher said many may welcome China's space program as an opportunity to engage with Beijing in a non-military field, especially considering the potential scale of its future contribution to space exploration.

But though China's program has a largely military character, he said, it would be "better to seek a greater foundation for peace on Earth with China, such as on the Taiwan Strait, before engaging a Chinese space program so closely bound to China's military goals."

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The ambitious agenda has emerged at an exhibition on space technology, where scientists in charge of the country's space program have been speaking in uncharacteristically open terms about the plans. China is expected to complete its first exploration of the moon in 2010,...
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Wednesday, 22 May 2002 12:00 AM
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