China names ‘Dream Vessel’ spacecraft it hopes will take astronauts to the moon

CNN:   China’s space agency has revealed the names of the spacecraft that it hopes will take Chinese astronauts to the moon by the end of the decade.

In a news release over the weekend, the China Manned Space Agency said development was “progressing well” on the spaceship Mengzhou, or Dream Vessel, the lander, Lanyue, or Embracing the Moon, and a super-heavy-lift carrier rocket named Long March 10.

The craft are part of an ambitious program Beijing hopes will confirm its status as a major space power.

China has not released a date for its expected manned lunar mission but has said it would take place by 2030 as it aims to become only the second country to land astronauts on the moon.

The Mengzhou spacecraft is made up of both a reentry module that will house astronauts and serve as the control center, and a service module for power and propulsion systems. The vehicle will be nearly 9 meters long and weigh 22 metric tons, according to state media.

The Lanyue lunar lander will accommodate two astronauts and a 200-kilogram rover, reports said.

The names of the craft were picked by a group of experts from nearly 2,000 proposals solicited from the public, according to the space agency.

“Lanyue” first appeared in a poem written by the People’s Republic of China founder Mao Zedong in 1965, and “symbolizes the Chinese people’s aspiration and confidence in their exploration of the universe and expedition to the moon,” the agency said.

The name Mengzhou is linked to the “Chinese nation’s dream of landing on the moon,” it added.

Beijing’s space program has long been associated with leader Xi Jinping’s “Chinese dream” to “rejuvenate” the country and attain a place of power and prestige globally, including in its technological capabilities.

China’s lunar ambitions come as more countries are elevating their space programs eyeing the potential scientific benefit, national prestige and access to resources and further deep space exploration that successful moon missions and other developments could bring.

The United States is ramping up its lunar program, with NASA last month announcing its plan to land astronauts on the moon in 2026, a year behind its original schedule. That would mark a first for the US since its Apollo missions in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Last week, the commercial Odysseus lunar lander developed by Intuitive Machines became the first US-made spacecraft to touch down on the moon in 50 years.

In January, Japan’s “Moon Sniper” robotic explorer landed on the lunar surface. The touchdown made Japan the third country this century — and the fifth ever — to land on the moon. India joined that list last year.

Beijing has surged ahead with lunar landings in recent years with its unmanned Chang’e missions, which made history in 2019 when China became the first country to successfully land on the far side of the moon.

The next unmanned mission, Chang’e-6, is expected to launch later this year and bring back the first samples ever collected from the moon’s far side.

China also expects its upcoming missions to collect data toward another lunar goal – constructing a permanent international research station on the lunar south pole by 2040.

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