China plans to land astronauts on the moon by 2030, which would be another step forward in what has been hailed as a new space race.
The United States aims to return astronauts to the moon by the end of 2025.
Lin Xiqiang, deputy director of China’s manned space agency, confirmed China’s target at a news conference on Monday, but did not give a specific date.
Lin also said China plans to expand its orbiting manned space station with additional modules.
The three new crew members are scheduled to board Shenzhou 16 on Tuesday and head to the Tiangong base, temporarily overlapping the three astronauts already on board.
The fresh crew includes civilians for the first time. All previous crew members have been with the People’s Liberation Army, the military arm of China’s ruling Communist Party.
Gui Haichao, a professor at Beijing’s top aerospace research institute, will join mission commander Jin Heipeng and spacecraft engineer Zhu Yangzhu as payload experts.
China completed the Tianhe Space Station in November, completing the third of three modules centered on the Tianhe Habitation Module and the Command Module.
China carried out its first manned space flight in 2003, making it the third country to carry out a manned space flight after the former Soviet Union and the United States.
China built its own station after being excluded from the International Space Station, largely because of US opposition to China’s space program and its close ties with the People’s Liberation Army.
Space is increasingly seen as a new area of competition between China and the United States, the world’s two largest economies and rivals for diplomatic and military influence.
Astronauts NASA will send to the moon by the end of 2025 will be heading to Antarctica, where permanently shadowed craters are believed to be filled with frozen water.
Plans for permanent manned bases on the moon are also being considered by both countries, raising questions about rights and interests on the moon.
U.S. law severely limits cooperation between the two space programs, and China says it welcomes foreign cooperation, but so far it has been limited to scientific research.
In addition to their lunar plans, the United States and China are also landing probes on Mars, and the Chinese government plans to follow the United States in landing probes on asteroids.