Luna 27 and Chang’e-6, for example, are planned to drill into the surface and return samples to Earth — a feat China already accomplished last December with Chang’e-5 and the Soviet Union did with Luna landers three times in the 1970s. In a second stage, between 2026 and 2030, the Chang’e-8 and Luna 28 missions will land separately with the first building blocks of the new station.
The first of Russia’s missions is scheduled for October, though Russia’s space program has a track record of lengthy delays.
Ultimately, China hopes the station will demonstrate the ability to develop water, mineral and energy resources that could allow the short-term survival of astronauts and serve as a base for deeper space exploration.
“A permanent base has both symbolic and power projection capabilities,” said Namrata Goswami, an independent analyst and co-author of a new book on space exploration, “Scramble for the Skies.”
NASA has its own plans to return astronauts to the moon — and one day, send them to Mars — and has recruited partners under an agreement, called the Artemis Accords, governing space activities, including operations, experiments and extraction of natural resources.
China is not explicitly excluded but seem all but certain not to sign, given the American restrictions on space cooperation and its own determination to build an indigenous program. Russia, too, seems unlikely to sign, given its tilt toward China.
As Dr. Johnson-Freese of the United States Naval War College put it, “China keeps Russia in the space game to a far greater extent than the Russian economy would otherwise support.”
Andrew E. Kramer reported from Moscow, and Steven Lee Myers from Seoul. Claire Fu in Beijing and Oleg Matsnev in Moscow contributed research.