China aims to put astronauts on moon

China puts its stamp on manned lunar missions, while emphasizing peaceful use of space.

A Long March-4B rocket blasts off from the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center.
China National Space Administration

Continuing its bold space plans, China has unveiled a five-year white paper that calls for putting astronauts on the moon, which would make it the first nation to visit since the U.S. last set foot there some 40 years ago.

"China will conduct studies on the preliminary plan for a human lunar landing," the State Council white paper says, also calling for deep-space exploration of planets and asteroids.

It does not give a timeline for the moonshot, but is seen as an official declaration of China's lunar goals.

The plans come as U.S. manned spaceflight is on hold, with NASA's space shuttle fleet retired and International Space Station missions dependent on Russian rockets. While President George W. Bush called for a return to the moon by 2020, President Obama canceled the program due to high costs but has proposed sending Americans to an asteroid by 2025.

China is building its own prototype space station, the Tiangong 1, before construction of a Mir-class station. It has already mapped the moon with the Chang'e-1 lunar probe, and plans to send the Shenzhou-9 and Shenzhou-10 spacecraft to dock with Tiangong-1 in 2012.

"Since 2006, Long March rockets have accomplished 67 successful launches, sending 79 spacecraft into planned orbits and demonstrating noteworthy improvement in the reliability of China's launch vehicles," the white paper states.

Although the space program is backed by the People's Liberation Army, the paper says it's entirely peaceful: "China always adheres to the use of outer space for peaceful purposes, and opposes weaponization or any arms race in outer space."

Whoever gets to the moon can claim a lot of great stuff. No one has been since the Apollo 17 mission of 1972, and its lunar rover is still waiting for a spot on Antiques Roadshow.