China plans to land astronauts on the moon before 2030, which would be another advance in what's increasingly seen as a new space race. The U.S. aims to put astronauts back on the lunar surface by the end of 2025.
Deputy Director of the Chinese Manned Space Agency Lin Xiqiang confirmed China's goal at a news conference Monday but gave no specific date.
Mr. Lin also said China plans to expand its orbiting crewed space station with an additional module. A new three-person crew is scheduled to head to the Tiangong station on Tuesday aboard the Shenzhou 16 craft and will overlap briefly with the three astronauts already aboard.
The fresh crew includes a civilian for the first time. All previous crew members have been in the People's Liberation Army, the military wing of the country's ruling Communist Party.
Gui Haichao, a professor at Beijing's top aerospace research institute, will join mission commander Jing Haipeng and spacecraft engineer Zhu Yangzhu as the payload expert.
China completed the Tiangong space station in November with the third of three modules, centered on the Tianhe living and command module.
China’s first manned space mission in 2003 made it the third country after the former Soviet Union and the U.S. to put a person into space.
China built its own station after it was excluded from the International Space Station, largely due to U.S. objections over the Chinese space programs’ intimate ties to the PLA.
Space is increasingly seen as a new area of competition between China and the United States — the world’s two largest economies and rivals for diplomatic and military influence. The astronauts NASA sends to the moon by the end of 2025 will aim for the south pole where permanently shadowed craters are believed to be packed with frozen water.
Plans for permanent crewed bases on the moon are also being considered by both countries, raising questions about rights and interests on the lunar surface. U.S. law tightly restricts cooperation between the two countries' space programs and while China says it welcomes foreign collaborations, those have thus far been limited to scientific research.
In addition to their lunar programs, the U.S. and China have also landed rovers on Mars and Beijing plans to follow the U.S. in landing a spacecraft on an asteroid.