China will consider the possibility of constructing a lunar scientific base, said an official at the country’s national space agency during a news conference in Beijing on Monday, just over a week after the first-ever soft landing on the far side of the Moon by one of its spacecrafts.
The country plans to send its "Chang’e 5″ probe, a spacecraft named after the moon goddess in Chinese mythology, to the Moon by the end of 2019, said Wu Yanhua, deputy head of China National Space Administration (CNSA) at the news conference.
He said that the proposed launch of the Chang’e 5 probe will be the next step in China’s lunar exploration. Once it succeeds, it will mark the completion of the third phase of China’s lunar program, whose goal is guiding a probe to carry lunar soil back to the Earth. China would become the third nation in the world to retrieve lunar samples, following the United States and Russia.
Besides the Chang’e 5 probe, the national space agency also announced it has laid out three more missions for its lunar exploration plan including the launch of Chang’e 6, Chang’e 7 and Chang’e 8. These spacecrafts are expected to carry out more experiments like collecting underground rock samples and conducting comprehensive detection at the South Pole of the Moon.
Wu said that the Chang’e 8 probe, in particular, will be tasked with verifying advanced technologies that may be applied in future lunar expeditions, possibly using 3D printing technology to build facilities for a lunar scientific base.
The announcement of upcoming plans comes after the successful touchdown of China’s unmanned Chang’e 4 probe on the far side of the Moon on January 3. The feat represents a milestone in the country’s space exploration as the first in history to land on the lunar surface unseen by those on the Earth.
The Chang’e 4 lunar probe has already sent back photos of the dark side of the Moon on the day of landing. Subsequently, the CNSA released a photo on January 15, showcasing that cotton seeds carried by the Chang’e 4 lunar lander have germinated on the far side of the moon. It is the first plant shoots to grow there in what mission chiefs said was "laying the foundation for a base on Earth’s only natural satellite."
Wu also revealed that China’s first Mars mission is scheduled for around 2020.