China recently landed its third spacecraft on the moon and says the explorer vehicle successfully collected material from the lunar surface.
The effort marks the first time in more than 40 years that any nation has collected samples from the moon for return to Earth.
Observers believe the latest space mission – along with several others planned for the future – can help strengthen the image of China’s ruling Communist Party.
China is a generation behind the United States and Russia in its space exploration efforts. But its secretive, military-linked space program is quickly developing. Among its space projects are a robot explorer on the way to Mars, development of a reusable space plane and a planned human mission to the moon.
Kathleen Campbell is an astrobiologist and geologist at The University of Auckland in New Zealand. She told The Associated Press that the next 10 years will be “quite critical” in space exploration.
“This is where we’re going to transform out of near Earth orbit and back into what people will call ‘deep space,’” Campbell said.
In 2003, China became the third nation to launch an astronaut into orbit on its own. It took place more than 40 years after the former Soviet Union and the United States launched astronauts into orbit. China’s first orbiting laboratory was launched in 2011. A second was launched in 2016. Plans call for a permanent space station to be established after 2022.
The latest moon landing represented “a historic step in China’s cooperation with the international community in the peaceful use of outer space,” a foreign ministry spokeswoman said.
The spokeswoman added, “China will continue to support “international cooperation and the exploration and use of outer space in the spirit of working for the benefit of all mankind.”
After astronaut Yang Liwei’s 2003 flight, Chinese space officials expressed hope for a crewed mission to the moon as early as 2020. They later pushed back that target to at least 2024.
China's space plane would be it's version of the American Space Shuttle and the former Soviet Union’s short-lived Buran space plane.
China also has launched its own network of GPS satellites so its military does not need to depend on GPS systems operated by the U.S. or Russia.
Last year, China became the first nation to land a spacecraft on the moon’s little-explored far side. The Chang’e 4 and its robot explorer are still operating. The spacecraft sends signals to Earth through an orbiter that passes over the moon’s far side. China’s first moon lander, the Chang’e 3, is still operating.
China has also joined the race to explore Mars. Its Tianwen-1 spacecraft launched in July on a mission to search the Red Planet for signs of water. It is set to complete its 470-million-kilometer trip in February.
China’s military-run space program is more secretive than those of other governments. Yang and other Chinese astronauts made very few public appearances after their flights. This compares to Soviet and American astronauts who were sent on publicity trips to visit huge crowds around the world.
I’m Bryan Lynn.
The Associated Press reported on this story. Bryan Lynn adapted the report for VOA Learning English. Ashley Thompson was the editor.
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Words in This Story
sample – n. a small amount of something that represents what it is like
mission – n. a flight by an aircraft or spacecraft to perform a specific task
transform – v. to change something completely usually in a good way
benefit – n. a good or helpful result or effect
GPS – n. (abbreviation for global positioning system) - a radio system that uses signals from satellites to tell you where you are and to give you directions to other places
publicity – n. the activity of making sure a person or thing attracts a lot of interest and attention from many people