BEIJING, China: Amid its rivalry with the US for reaching new milestones in space, reflecting their competition for global influence, Chinese officials said this week that China's burgeoning space program plans to place astronauts on the moon before 2030 and expand the country's orbiting space station.
Meanwhile, as part of a renewed commitment to manned space missions, supported by private sector companies such as SpaceX and Blue Origin, the US aims to put astronauts back on the moon by the end of 2025.
Deputy Director of the Chinese Manned Space Agency, Lin Xiqiang, gave no specific dates, but confirmed the country's twin objectives at a news conference.
He also introduced three astronauts who will travel to the country's space station in a launch scheduled this week. The astronauts will replace a crew that has remained on the orbiting station for six months.
China is first preparing for a "short stay on the lunar surface and human-robotic joint exploration," Lin told reporters at the briefing.
The three astronauts to be launched this week are Gui Haichao, professor at Beijing's top aerospace research institute, commander Jing Haipeng, a major general who has made three previous space flights, and spacecraft engineer Zhu Yangzhu as the payload expert.
Speaking to media at the launch site outside the northwestern city of Jiuquan, Jing said the mission was "a new stage of application and development," in China's space program.
After its first manned space mission in 2003, China became the third country, after the USSR and the US, to send a human to space.
After it was excluded from the International Space Station, due to US objections over the Chinese space programs' connections to its military,
China built its own space station.
In Jiuquan, Li Yingliang, technology director of the Chinese crewed space flight agency, said China hoped for more international collaboration, including with the US.
"Our country's consistent stance is that as long as the goal is to utilize space for peaceful purposes, we are willing to cooperate and communicate with any country or aerospace organization," Li said, as quoted by the Associated Press.
Other countries and entities, including India, the UAE, Israel and the EU, are also planning missions to the moon.