The joint Apollo-Soyuz Project mission between the USSR and US in 1975 effectively marked the end of the space race and with it the political, military and ideological drive to explore and occupy the moon.

But the dream has never faded.

Countless Science fiction novels, movies, TV shows and songs have since encapsulated a powerful common desire to go forth and populate the galaxy. And events and developments in the last decade or so are now being harnessed for a growing lunar movement (see The Google Lunar X PRIZE)

The discovery of Luna ice on the moon’s poles by NASA’s Clementine (1994) and Lunar Prospector (1998) definitely raised the prospect of establishing a Luna base on the Moon. More significantly, however, China soon stepped to the plate: announcing, later that decade, plans to establish a permanent Luna space station in the year 2020.

Meanwhile, five space agencies, NASA, the Russian RKA, the Japanese JAXA, the European ESA and the Canadian CSA collaborated in the preparation and construction of the International Space Station, a permanently manned orbiting space station. The first component of the modular structure was launched in 1998 and the space station has now been permanently occupied for 12 years and counting.

In 2004, with schoolboy enthusiasm, U.S. President George W. Bush called again for manned missions to the Moon. Unsurprisingly, he too named the year 2020. And on June 18, 2009, NASA launched the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) with the stated intention of using the data it gleaned to assist in a stated United States program to extend human presence in the solar system.

In February 2010, however, Obama ended the Moon program, shifting to an endorsement of private spaceflight. Thankfully announcing, however, that $6 billion of NASA’s budget was to be spent over the following five years in the development of new commercial manned spaceflight capabilities.

Bigelow Aerospace, which plans to launch the initial components of its Bigelow Next Generation Commercial Space Station in 2014, has also expressed ambitions to build a Luna Hotel.

But it is the Chinese Lunar Exploration Program (Or Chang’e Program) that is truly leading the charge.

Now, with a stated aim of establishing the first manned lunar base sometime after 2030, at which it will begin mining for Helium-3, China has been launching one successful mission after another, and is well on track to achieving its aim.

Two lunar orbiters, Chang’e 1 and Chang’e 2 have both completed their missions, supplying China and the world with detailed 3D imaging of every facet of the moon’s surface. Two lunar landers, Chang’e 3 and Chang’e 4, will be launched in 2013 (Chang’e 4 serving as a back-up) with Chang’e-3’s landing craft employing variable thrusters to make vertical landing on Sinus Iridum, at latitude 44˚ north. The rover will then spend three months exploring the lunar surface, acquiring data that will ultimately determine a suitable location for a lunar base.

Chang’e 3’s landing site, Sinus Iridum, is the Northwestern extension to the Mare Imbrium. Scientist believe that lava tubes may exist at Mare Serenitatis, a lunar mare located to the east of Mare Imbrium, so easily explored by Chang’e 3. We can only hope they send it there.

Interested in learning more about current Moon plans and projects? Wanting to share what you know? Visit the Moon Plans & Projects Forum [LINK]. 

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