Another robotic Chinese mission landed on the moon in December, collected lunar rocks from the surface and returned them to Earth weeks later. That made China only the third nation, after the United States and the Soviet Union, to complete such a round-trip.
These successful endeavors have added to the likelihood that China will keep to its proposed timelines for other deep space missions. In addition to a series of robotic journeys to the lunar surface, the country will aim to collect samples from a near-Earth asteroid and return them to Earth around 2025 — something Japan has done twice. It also intends to launch a mission around 2030 to collect samples from Mars and bring them back to Earth, something NASA and the European Space Agency are collaborating on in the coming years as well.
Who else is going to space this year and next?
The usual up-and-down trips of astronauts to the International Space Station will continue. Two launches are scheduled for October, one of a Russian Soyuz rocket, one of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket.
The SpaceX mission, planned for Oct. 31, will be the fourth that the company, founded by Elon Musk, has conducted for NASA taking astronauts to and from the space station. Riding in this capsule will be three NASA astronauts — Kayla Barron, Raja Chari and Thomas Marshburn — and Matthias Maurer, a European Space Agency astronaut from Germany.
The passengers on the Soyuz launch, which is to take place earlier in the month, are quite different. The commander, Anton Shkaplerov, is a professional Russian astronaut, but the two other people — Klim Shipenko, a film director, and Yulia Peresild, an actress — are not. They going up to make a movie titled “Challenge.” Ms. Peresild will play a surgeon sent to orbit to save the life of a Russian astronaut.
Nonprofessional astronauts will also be heading to orbit from the United States. In September, SpaceX is to launch a mission called Inspiration4, purchased by a billionaire entrepreneur, Jared Isaacman, that is to take him and three other people to orbit but not to the space station. That will be the first launch of people in which no one onboard works for NASA or other governmental space agencies.
Next year, a private company, Axiom Space, is to launch four private citizens on a SpaceX rocket to visit the space station.