It appears likely that, within two weeks, China will be following Japan to the Moon with the launch of Chang'e 1. The official launch date has not yet been announced, but the Chinese government is now selling tickets to a public viewing. I've been exchanging emails with a Chinese space enthusiast, Wang Chun, whom I asked to tell me a little bit about what the public thinks about the upcoming launch. Here's what he had to say:
I do not watch TV, so I am not sure how it is being reported there. But the latest news about the lunar probe has been among the headlines at sina.com.cn for days.
For example, yesterday's news is: "Expert says the launch date of Chang'e 1 has been determined." But no date was given in the content of the article. People can comment on news at sina.com.cn, and since the site is a general media outlet, it is a good online place to understand how the general public sees this event. Here are some revised Google-translated comments:
Do not be too confident, it is necessary to truly work. Compared with the United States and Russia, we are still in the embryonic stage.
I wish for a smooth and successful launch!
Zhouyan SciTech [a stock] will rise a lot.
The best launch date is the 27th, why make it so mysterious?
I wish a successful launch.
The Chinese people can do the job! The Chinese nation stands among the world's people, so that they feel that the Chinese people are hardworking, brave, and wise. Nothing is impossible for the Chinese people to change! The Chinese people will change the world!
Our work is scientific, it is not luck but the practice of science that creates the possibility of success or failure! We must have the right mentality!
Why it is open to the public this time?
Which is the day for launch? When the United States launches, with the exception of top-secret military satellite, it is announced a few weeks or even months in advance.
Fly, my Chang'e!
And so on...
As for in offline conversations, it seems the public interest in the lunar probe is far below what it was for the manned flights. However, unlike the criticism of [expensive high-tech public works like] the Beijing-Shanghai express train or the maglev projects, most people seem to support aerospace, and want the government to invest more money in it. But the people still know very little about the detail of space -- because space and astronomy does not make money -- and very few college students study astronomy in China. People at technical aerospace forums usually discuss about what salary they can get if they enter the aerospace field.
I thank Wang Chun very much for the insight he has given into the thinking of some of the Chinese public about their upcoming launch. I hope to hear more from him over the next couple of weeks. Chun has put his name in for the opportunity to buy a ticket for the launch; I hope he gets to go!