Wednesday, September 14, 2011

No Evidence of China Moon Mission

The Space Review has published an essay by Dwayne Day that further refutes claims by certain people — including the Space Coast's two congressional representatives — that China has a robust and imminent Moon program.

Right now China is preparing to launch the first test component of its long-term effort to develop a space station. Named Tiangong-1, it is not a space station module, nor apparently even a prototype of a space station module. Rather, it is essentially a piece of test equipment for practicing space operations. It will serve as a rendezvous and docking target for several unpiloted spacecraft and later will be visited by a Chinese taikonaut crew. After those visits it will be abandoned. A few years later China will probably launch a follow-on craft and conduct a few more tests. Late this decade they plan on starting construction on a multi-module space station. Essentially, they want to build the equivalent of something like the former Russian Mir space station — smaller than the International Space Station and apparently capable of operating relatively early on rather than after many years of construction. Their space station plans are sensible and methodical, and a little slow-paced. But they also have no reason to rush. They’re not in a race.

As for claims that China is headed for the Moon:

In the last decade there were numerous reports in Western media that China was planning on sending humans to the Moon by 2017 or even 2010. Gradually, it became clear that many of these reports were based upon poor translations of comments by Chinese officials who were referring to plans for robotic lunar missions. But over time it has also become clear that China’s human spaceflight program was moving at a very slow and methodical pace. It was difficult for reporters and commentators to maintain any hyperbole about China’s lunar aspirations when the Chinese were launching humans only once every three years.

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