Human moon landers

v0.2 - 25-04-2020

Crewed moon landers

Not all moon landers were automatic without a crew. Several designs have been made and even flown with a crew, the most famouse one the Apollo Lunar Excursion module.

Apollo Lunar Excursion Module

Operator: NASA

Target:  Moon

Landing date:  1969 (Apollo 11)

Status:  Retired

The Apollo Lunar Excursion Module, LEM, was the moon lander of the Apollo project. The LEM was stored in the Saturn V and extracted by the command module after launch. For transit, the LEM would be attached to the forward docking port of Apollo. When the stack was in lunar orbit, two crew members would transfer to the LEM and prepare for landing. The LEM consisted of two parts, the descent and ascent stage. The descent stage was on the bottom of the stack and was powered by a hyperbolic engine with a throttle range of 65 to 92.5%. This allowed for sufficient control for a safe landing. The descent stage also housed the landing legs. These legs would dampen the final landing and housed probes to help the astronauts determine their distance to the lunar surface. The "upper stage" or ascent module also used a hyperbolic engine. It would allow the two astronauts to return to lunar orbit, where they would dock with the orbiting Apollo command module. 

The video on the right shows the lift-off of Apollo 17 filmed by the lunar rover. The descent stage is left on the moon and the ascent stage flies off. Note how the exhaust of the N2O2-Aerozine 50 combustion is clear and no flame can be seen. A similar phenomenon was observed in the 2021 Perseverance lander. 

LK lander

Operator: Soviet space program

Target:  Moon

Landing date:  Never flew to the moon

Status:  Cancelled

The LK lander was the Russian alternative to the Apollo LM. The Lk would have launched onboard the N1 rocket below the Soyuz module much like Apollo and LEM were launched. The LK would be extracted after launch and when the combination was around the moon a single cosmonate would space walk over to the Lk. The LK was quite a bit smaller, weiging between 5560 and 6525 kg compared to 15200 and 16400 for the LEM. The Lk only had one hypergolic engine that would be usedo n both ascent and descent flight. The landing legs would stay behind on the moon. Later LK landers would be upgraded to two crew members

LK lander

LK lander

Lanyue lander

Operator: C space program

Target:  Moon

Landing date:  Planned

Status:  In development

The Lanyue capsule, also known as “Embracing the Moon,” is a significant component of China’s ambitious lunar exploration program. Designed to transport astronauts to the moon and facilitate their safe landing on its surface, it serves as the crewed lunar lander, enabling taikonauts (Chinese astronauts) to step onto the lunar frontier. Inspired by a poem from Chairman Mao Zedong in 1965, the name “Lanyue” symbolizes China’s aspiration to explore new frontiers in space and establish a permanent presence on the moon.

The Lanyue capsule has a total length of approximately 8.8 meters in its lunar configuration. It consists of two modules: the crew module, which returns to Earth and accommodates the astronauts during their lunar mission, and the expendable service module, providing propulsion, power, and life support while the capsule is in space. With the capacity to carry both crew members and scientific payloads, the Lanyue capsule contributes significantly to lunar exploration efforts.

By the end of this decade, the Lanyue capsule will work in conjunction with China’s future lunar descent spacecraft. Its role is pivotal in realizing the dream of landing on the moon and conducting scientific exploration missions. China aims to establish a permanent presence on the lunar surface, and the Lanyue capsule plays a crucial part in achieving this goal.

In summary, the Lanyue capsule embodies China’s vision of embracing the moon, pushing the boundaries of human exploration, and leaving an indelible mark on lunar history.

For more information on China’s space endeavors, visit and stay updated on the latest developments.