The competition heats up: China has scheduled for November its next mission to the Moon, the first lunar sample return mission since the American Apollo manned missions and the first robotic sample return mission since the Soviets did it in 1976.
China has announced that its Chang’e-5 automated Moon surface sampling and return mission will launch in late November 2017. The 8.2-tonne probe will launch on a Long March 5 rocket from the Wenchang Satellite Launch Centre on Hainan island, and attempt the first lunar sample return since the Soviet Union’s Luna 24 mission in 1976.
The mission will be complex, with some of the key technologies and techniques involved will also be applicable for a Chinese Mars sample return mission, planned for around 2030, as well as future crewed journeys to the lunar surface. “The lunar probe is comprised of four parts: an orbiter, a return module, an ascender and a lander,” state media Xinhua quoted Ye Peijian, one of China’s leading aerospace experts, as saying.
Having soft-landed on the Moon and drilled for and collected samples, an ascent module will perform an automated docking with an orbiter in a lunar orbit 380,000 km away from Earth. The orbiter will then head on a trajectory for home, with the return module separating from the orbiter close to Earth and making a high speed atmospheric ‘skip’ reentry.
Without question the Chinese program is ramping up, and it is doing so in a very rational and pragmatic manner. It is also clear that they are carefully developing the technologies necessary to later launch manned missions to the Moon, which could also include sending their first space stations on lunar orbital missions.
From the press release: From the moment he is handed a possibility of making the first alien contact, Saunders Maxwell decides he will do it, even if doing so takes him through hell and back.
Unfortunately, that is exactly where that journey takes him.
The vision that Zimmerman paints of vibrant human colonies on the Moon, Mars, the asteroids, and beyond, indomitably fighting the harsh lifeless environment of space to build new societies, captures perfectly the emerging space race we see today.
He also captures in Pioneer the heart of the human spirit, willing to push forward no matter the odds, no matter the cost. It is that spirit that will make the exploration of the heavens possible, forever, into the never-ending future.
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