Chinese scientists are determined to carry out two of the nation's most challenging space endeavors next year: its Chang'e 5 lunar mission and first Mars exploration.
Ye Peijian, a leading space exploration researcher at the China Academy of Space Technology, said in Beijing recently that he and his colleagues are confident they will honor their commitment to the Chinese people, that of commencing with the Chang'e 5 and Mars missions in 2020.
"We have been improving the overall reliability of the Chang'e 5 mission since it was postponed, and we continue to make plans for all possible contingencies to make sure the program will succeed," he said.
Ye, 74, is one of the most accomplished space researchers in China and was recently awarded the honorary national title of People's Scientist. He has played major roles in a number of significant space projects, including the Chang'e lunar exploration program.
The original plan for the Chang'e 5 mission was to launch it at the end of 2017. However, the failure of the second launch of the Long March 5 carrier rocket, the country's largest and mightiest rocket and the one tasked with ferrying the Chang'e 5 probe, led to the lunar mission's delay.
If the Chang'e 5 program succeeds, it will make China the third nation to bring lunar samples back to Earth, after the United States and Russia.
China has launched four lunar probes since 2007.
In December 2013, the third probe became the first Chinese spacecraft to land on the lunar surface and released the first Chinese lunar rover.
The ongoing Chang'e 4 mission, launched in December, has been giving mankind its first close-up look at the moon's far side — a region that never faces Earth — accomplishing a goal sought by scientists for decades.
"We are also doing research and making plans for the Chang'e 6 mission," Ye said. "If Chang'e 5 is successful, then we will send Chang'e 6 to the lunar south pole to collect samples and bring them back because it is scientifically important for scientists to survey and investigate the south pole."
He said the Mars exploration program is proceeding well. China's first planetary expedition, it is expected to land a probe on the Martian surface before July 2021.
"Though it has been preceded by other countries' Mars missions, ours will produce better performance in terms of technological level and engineering capability," Ye said. "We will use the probe to fulfill three scientific objectives — orbiting the red planet for comprehensive observation, landing on Martian soil and using a rover to explore the landing site. If we succeed, this will become the world's first Mars expedition accomplishing all three goals with one probe."
The China National Space Administration says the country's first Martian probe will conduct scientific investigations of Martian soil, the planet's geological structure as well as its environment and also search for the possible existence of water.
The probe will take about seven months to reach the red planet.