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China and the Moon

On January 4 2019, China became the first nation in the world to land a spacecraft on the far side of the Moon. The Chinese said that this accomplishment was not motivated by an imaginary “Asia space race,” or to obtain bragging rights in the international space community. The China Lunar Exploration Program (CLEP) is a carefully formulated series of increasingly challenging missions, to be carried out over the next decade. The stated goal is to enable world-class scientific discovery, and for China to develop and make use of the resources on the Moon for the benefit of their economy on Earth.

One might assume, knowing the political and organizational structure of the Chinese government, in which defense and economic policy are made top-down by the political leadership, that multi-decade science projects, such as the lunar program, were made in a similar way.

In fact, China’s lunar development missions are by and large the culmination of a tireless nearly 30-year effort by a Chinese scientist to develop the plans for lunar exploration, gain the approval of the broad scientific community and the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and then convince the government leadership to commit to a multi-phase lunar exploration program that would eventually create a manned base on the Moon.

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