Recent and rather bold statements made by Chinese officials suggest that the country is moving forward toward its goal of sending Taikonauts to the surface of the Moon.
China is the third country (after the Soviet Union / Russia and the U.S.) that has independently sent humans into space. In October 2003, Yang Liwei flew on board the Shenzhou-5 spacecraft, becoming the first Chinese in orbit. He now serves as the deputy director general of China Manned Space Agency.
“China is making preliminary preparations for a manned lunar landing mission,” Yang said in early June, Xinhua state news agency reports.
Liwei made a speech during the 2017 Global Space Exploration Conference in Beijing on June 6. Some of his remarks were in reference to the future of the Chinese lunar exploration program.
He noted that it would not take long for the manned lunar landing project to get official approval and funding. During the conference, he was also asked whether he has any plan to step onto the Moon.
"If I am given the opportunity, no problem!" Yang replied.
China intends to realize its plan of a manned landing on the Moon by 2036, according to a state official who revealed this deadline last year.
Wu Yansheng, the president of China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC), has also confirmed that the country is working on fulfilling the envisioned manned lunar landing program. He revealed that the proposed mission would consist of a crewed spaceship, a propulsion vehicle and a lunar lander. According to him, the manned spacecraft and the lunar lander will be sent into circumlunar orbit separately.
Chinese officials disclosed no further details about the project. However, during the last month’s conference, China announced that it would carry out at least four manned spaceflight missions over a period of five years in order to build its space station.
According to Yang, the launch of the first core module of the space station is scheduled for 2019, which will be followed by launches of two experiment modules. Two manned space missions are currently planned to be conducted in 2020, while the space station is expected to be fully completed in 2022.
So far, Beijing has sent into orbit two Tiangong space laboratories, designed to test key technologies for the future modular space station.
China has already made huge steps toward the realization of its ambitious lunar exploration program. On December 14, 2013, the country’s Chang’e 3 successfully reached the Moon, becoming the first spacecraft to soft-land on the lunar surface since the Soviet Union's Luna 24 in 1976.
The Chang’e 3 lander deployed a rover known as Yutu. Although the rover became immobile after 42 days, it continued to operate on the Moon and return intermittent but useful data until it had finally ceased functioning on July 31, 2016.
The next unmanned lunar mission, Chang’e 4, is currently planned for December 2018, while the country’s first sample return mission, designated Chang’e 5, was postponed to 2019 due to the recent failure of a Long March 5 launcher.
This article originally appeared on SpaceFlight Insider and was written by Tomasz Nowakowski.