The space race is heating up.

Dream Vessel

China's space agency is racing towards sending astronauts to the lunar surface — ambitious plans that are now starting to take shape.

In a new announcement, the China Manned Space Agency even revealed the names of its crewed capsule and the lander it'll release to lower crew down to the surface.

The capsule is called Mengzhou, or "dream vessel," while the lander is called Lanyue, or "embracing the Moon," a reference to a poem written by Mao Zedong in 1965, as CNN reports.

The almost 30-foot-long Mengzhou spacecraft will weigh in at a whopping 22 metric tons, per the announcement. The lander is big enough to house two astronauts and a 440-pound rover. According to the statement, their development is "progressing well."

It's a highly ambitious plan, but given the country's progress — including becoming the first to land a spacecraft on the far side of the Moon in 2019 — it may just have a shot at pulling off its goal of returning astronauts to the lunar surface by 2030.

Race to the Moon

Before sending crew members to the Moon, China is hoping to launch a mission dubbed Chang'e 8 as soon as 2028, which will involve a special device that can squeeze moon soil into bricks, as well as a robot to assemble them into an early prototype habitat of a future research station on the Moon's south pole.

Meanwhile, the US is also pushing for an astronaut landing as soon as 2026, but given ongoing delays and budget uncertainties, it's still unclear if NASA will beat China to the punch.

Last month, Japan also became the fifth country to softly touch down — albeit at an unfortunate orientation — on the lunar surface with its Smart Lander for Investigating Moon.

Before embarking on its crewed mission to the lunar surface, China is hoping to collect and retrieve the first samples taken from the Moon's far side later this year.

Of course, launching a massive heavy-lift rocket with astronauts on board represents a significant increase in complexity, and only time will tell if the country's ongoing efforts will pay off — or when.

But given what China's space agency has already pulled off, it's the one to watch.

More on China's Moon ambitions: New Chinese Lander to Start Building Base From Moon Dust Bricks

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