From the moon to Mars: China’s grip on the stars

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After the first landing on the moon-and-back, China wants to expand its lunar program quickly, and already in 2020, a Mars probe loss chicken. Space expert Dirk Lorenzen explains China’s ambitious space program.

DW: Mr Lorenzen, what are the interests of China, the landing of Chang’e 4s on the back side of the moon, which is so far unique – the only scientific?

Dirk Lorenzen: it’s not just scientific subjects. Of course, China wants to show what it can do. But it is a lot less policy and a lot less Prestige than the Apollo missions in the 60s and 70s. That China is a great space, we know not only since Chang’e 4. Finally, the Chinese are sending for the past 15 years.

And yet it is, now, the race was opened to the moon. It seems when one reads the article, or Social Media comments on it, as the Europeans and the Americans had underestimated the Chinese. Is that true?

This is complete nonsense. There is not this race to the moon. China has this very rigorous program of automatic probes: the first landing on the front, now landing on the back. China is maybe the samples at the end of this year, the ground from the back to the earth.

But it is not true that NASA and ESA do nothing. NASA and ESA to build the Orion spacecraft. Thus, in 2022 people will be flying at least around the moon. Interesting for sure, when people land on the moon. It could take a good ten years.

So far, twelve people were on the moon, and the thirteenth could actually be a Chinese woman or a Chinese. But it is not so that the others perceive the moon.

What, then, is the impression that China is pursuing primarily their own interests, and this Mission has primarily symbolic and political value?

This is a Prime example of how questionable strengthen theses on Social Media. A: It is not true that the other fly to the moon. Secondly, it is not only a demonstration of power. It even has international partners.

It is a measuring instrument of the Christian-Albrechts-University in Kiel, Germany is on Board. Anyone who claims now that the other had slept through the moon, and China would now show everyone how to do it, has obviously no knowledge of the moon program to the other.

It is clear that China wants to show what it can do. Above all, they show that, for future international missions to participate. So far, the Chinese are on the orders of the Americans outside of the International space station.

I spoke about this recently with NASA’s chief Jim bride Stine. NASA would like to work very much closer with China. But officially, this is forbidden by law. In a way, the Americans are forcing China to take in this role: We need to show, what we can do, so this ban may be loosened.

Also the Indians have their own space program. How do you see its ambitions and possibilities?

India has so far been limited mainly to earth observation and communications. Now you can go even more in science. You must first gain experience. Since there are no really big goals, you want to first learn a bit how to work in space.

India is not really a competitor to China, because they are clearly single-minded. India has a very nice science program, but it is not on the same level as that of the Chinese.

Dirk Lorenzen is a physicist and science journalist. His specialty is astronomy and space travel. The Interview was conducted by Julia Vergin.