International Day of Human Space Flight: To the moon!



April 12 is the International Day of Human Space Flight, which is the date when the Soviet Union’s Yuri Gagarin became the first human to go to space in 1961.

The latest trending destination for human space flight is the moon, as many countries and organizations are trying to bring astronauts back to the lunar surface.

China’s program is named “Chang’e” after the goddess of the moon in Chinese mythology. In 2020, the fifth mission, the Chang’e-5, retrieved samples of the moon back to Earth weighing about 1,731 grams, the first lunar samples retrieved in over 40 years.

The country has launched the Queqiao-2 satellite as a communication relay for the coming Chang’e-6 mission, which will test key technologies used for the next manned mission.

The country plans to land its taikonauts on the moon before 2030 to carry out scientific exploration.

China is also planning to build an international lunar scientific research station at the south pole of the moon, which is expected to be completed by 2030.

The U.S., which has sent astronauts to the moon before, is also preparing for a grand return. The first phase of its Artemis program was a success, during which a probe was sent to orbit around the moon and then returned to the earth.

Now the country is working on a manned mission, aiming for a launch in September 2025, sending four astronauts on a lunar flyby.

Two astronauts are planned to land on the moon in 2026, while a space station called the Lunar Gateway is expected to start assembly in an orbit near the moon in 2028.

Russia launched its first lunar probe in 47 years – the Luna-25 – in August 2023. Unfortunately, the probe, intended for a soft landing, crashed onto the moon.

With that said, the country is also working with China on the lunar research station, which would also see participation from the European Space Agency (ESA). ESA’s own mission, named Heracles, has been superseded and is no longer actual.

During India’s Chandrayaan-3 mission in 2023, a lander-rover combo was sent to the moon. The country targets 2040 to send astronauts to the lunar surface.

Japan launched Smart Lander for Investigating Moon to become the fifth country to reach the moon in 2024. Though the touchdown was a bit wonky, the probe managed to regain power and resume its mission.