A Chinese rover is currently exploring the far side of the Moon, and an official announced on Monday that the country's space program plans to launch three more lunar missions — with the goal of laying the groundwork for an international Moon base.
"We hope that [the last of the planned missions] Chang'e-8 will help test some technologies, and do some exploring for the building of a joint lunar base shared by multiple countries," said the deputy head of China's space program, Wu Yanhua, during a press conference.
The announcement doesn't come as a surprise to experts. International space expert Namrata Goswami predicted last month that China's latest lander was part of a roadmap to a research base on the Moon.
"Significantly, China’s ambitions for the moon and outer space have only been growing, to include ambitions of a Chinese research base on the moon, as well as developing bioregenerative support systems to ensure that humans can settle and survive in lunar conditions," Goswami wrote in The Diplomat.
Chinese officials are riding high on the success of Chang'e-4, the lander that touched down weeks ago. Chang'e-4 has already released a rover and succeeded for the first time in human history in germinating seeds on another world.
The timeline to China's Moon base isn't clear, but the next steps are coming into focus.
First its space program will send a lander called Chang'e-5 to the Moon later this year, which will collect samples and return to Earth. The results from Chang'e-5 and three follow-up missions, Wu said, will help solidify plans for a research base. Wu specifically highlighted whether it'll be possible to use lunar soil to 3D print habitable structures.
READ MORE: China Unveils Follow-Up Lunar Exploration Missions [Xinhua]
More on China’s Chang’e-4 lander: See China’s Lunar Rover Set Off Across the Far Side of the Moon
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