China will push ahead with its lunar exploration program despite the United States’ decision to suspend its return to the moon, a senior space exploration scientist has said.
“China should not slow down its pace of lunar exploration even if other countries change their plans,” said Ye Peijian, chief designer of the nation’s first lunar probe, Chang’e-1.
The country plans to launch its second lunar probe, Chang’e-2, in the latter half of this year as well as send a lunar lander and rover by 2013, Ye said.
The latest signal of China’s resolve in lunar exploration follows U.S. President Barack Obama’s announcement in February that his administration was axing the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) Constellation program, which former president George W. Bush started in 2004 to return Americans to the moon by 2020.
Instead, NASA was asked to focus on technologies to prepare for human missions to other destinations in the solar system.
Billions of dollars will be spent on new commercial spacecraft that could carry U.S. astronauts into low Earth orbit, on technology development, and extending the life of the International Space Station, media have reported.
The U.S. investment in new technology is expected to lay the foundation to support effective and affordable journeys to the moon and eventually to Mars.
Ye conceded the refocused efforts of the U.S. on Mars and Earth observation do represent a future trend.
The U.S. could postpone moon-landing plans because “they made it to the moon some 40 years ago and still hold the technological advantage”, he said.
China stands a better chance of joining more international projects in the field with a smaller technological gap, he said.
The country should also explore Mars independently, Ye said.