Volunteers in the Yuegong-1 cabin

China rehearses extended stays on the Moon in lunar cabin

Image credit: China Daily

Beijing is testing for the possibility for astronauts to remain on the Moon for extended periods of time, reports the official Xinhua news agency. The experiment comes amid a push for China to become a global pioneer in space exploration.

President of the People’s Republic of China, Xi Jinping, has called for China to become a global space power. While advances have been made in China’s space programme for scientific, commercial and military purposes, China still trails behind the US and Russia.

The first Chinese cargo spacecraft docked with an orbiting space lab in April. The country plans to send a space probe to return lunar samples before the end of the year, send the first ever probe to the dark side of the Moon by 2018, and establish a permanently manned space station by 2022.

China is aiming to put astronauts on the surface of the Moon by 2036.

To prepare for the ambitious task of lengthy manned missions to the Moon, volunteers are spending extended periods of time in a simulated space cabin, the Yuegong-1, or Moon Palace 1, cabin. Two groups of four study participants – two men and two women each – will alternate stays in the cabin, the first of 60 days, the second of 200 days and the third of 105 days.

“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 Professor Liu Zhiheng of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

A successful 105-day trial was carried out in 2014. The one man and two women survived on just plants and mealworms for the three months inside the Yuegong-1 cabin. The environmentally closed cabin is 160 square metres, with two greenhouses, three bedrooms, a dining room, bathroom and waste disposal chamber.

The facility is equipped with a life support system – the Bioregenerative Life Support System (BLSS) – the key to survival in a Moon-like environment. It allows food and water to be recycled, and requires no external inputs other than power. This is the third BLSS ever built, and the first in China.

“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,” Xinhua news agency said.

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