China trials moon cabin ‘the size of a small apartment’

11 May 2017

Image: rangizzz/Shutterstock

China’s attempts to send astronauts to the moon are beginning to take shape, with a new investigation into lunar cohabitation underway.

China’s enthusiasm for space travel in recent years has been well documented, with our moon its primary target.

In 2014, it sent a spacecraft around the astronomical body, capturing a stunning image of its ‘dark side’ (the far side of the moon, in truth) on its return to Earth.

Soon after, the Chinese space agency revealed plans to send up a lunar-landing probe, aiming to conduct the first ever study of geological conditions in a part of the moon that we don’t know a whole lot about.

Radio transmissions from Earth are unable to reach the far side, making a potential mission an excellent opportunity to place a radio telescope for use by astronomers.

Last month, a partnership between Europe and China’s space agencies was formed, with a plan to build the first human settlement on the moon, simply called the ‘Moon Village’.

And now, in preparation of such a feat, Chinese volunteers will live in a simulated space cabin for up to 200 days in a lunar cohabitation trial.

Chinese president Xi Jinping wants his country to become a formidable force in a new space race, with the probe to the far side of the moon planned for next year.

It is hoped that astronauts will be sent up to the moon by 2036, largely in sync with what NASA is planning for its Martian missions.

The dark side of the moon, as seen by a 2014 Chinese probe. Image: Xinhuanet

The far side of the moon, as seen by a 2014 Chinese probe. Image: Xinhuanet

This current test could see previous investigations almost doubled.

“While it remains unclear exactly how long China’s first lunar explorers will spend on the surface, the country is already planning for longer stays,” said China’s official news agency, Xinhuanet.

Eight volunteers in total will live in Yuegong-1 – the size of a “very small urban apartment” – to test how a life-support system works, with the ability to recycle food and water of primary importance.

“The latest test is vital to the future of China’s moon and Mars missions, and must be relied upon to guarantee the safety and health of our astronauts,” said Liu Zhiheng of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

In December, NUI Galway PhD student Ilaria Cinelli was the commander of a mission to explore the surface of Mars, or, rather, a simulated one in the Utah desert, in what is NASA’s comparable investigation.

Operated by the Mars Society, the Mars Desert Research Station is a full-scale analogue facility designed to replicate the environment that astronauts will experience on Mars if a colony is established.

Updated, 11.20am, 11 May 2017: This article was amended to clarify that the ‘dark’ side of the moon is merely the ‘far’ side of the moon.

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic