Though 12 men have set foot on the moon, no woman has yet taken that giant leap.
But under extraordinary plans set out today, the world’s superpowers will come together to make it happen.
And not content to stop there, they will also build a permanent base on its surface and then travel to Mars.
Science minister David Willetts claims Britain can help bring the US, Europe and China together to take space travel into its next phase.
Mr Willetts said Stevenage – the home of Space City, which makes a quarter of the world’s satellites – would be ‘at the heart of the global space effort’.
Last year, republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich promised that if he won, America would have a permanent base on the moon by the end of his second term.
The 12 men who have set foot on the moon have all been American, but the last one was 41 years ago.
Mr Willetts predicted that it will actually be the Chinese who next return humans to the moon.
China, Russia and the US are the only countries to have independently sent humans into space.
Just days ago, Beijing also launched a rocket to the moon, carrying a small robotic device that will touch down on the lunar surface this weekend – the first controlled landing since 1976 on the Earth’s only natural satellite.
China has stepped up its space efforts since US president Barack Obama cancelled Nasa’s Constellation programme, which had been designed to build a new generation of rockets that could send people to the moon and beyond.
Chinese astronauts are expected to land on lunar soil between 2025 and 2030.
‘They are going to go first to the moon. They are landing an explorer vehicle this time,’ Mr Willetts said.
‘What they will subsequently do is land and retrieve robotic equipment. Then they will put a man – or I suspect a woman on the moon if they’re being smart – and then go on to Mars.
‘Our hunger for discovery isn’t over. And one of the advantages of the challenge of getting a manned mission to Mars is that it such a big project that it probably requires global co-operation.
'I think if you got the major powers – the Europeans, the Americans and the Chinese – working together that is possible. It would be very exciting. In the old days it was Cape Canaveral. In the future it will be Stevenage at the heart of the global space effort,’ he said.
‘Stevenage is where we do our work on robotic systems. A lot of the technology for the Mars Rover vehicle, which the European Space Agency will launch in a couple of years’ time, was developed in Stevenage. We are in a very good position. We have got a very nimble and effective space industry.
Mr Willetts said there was enormous potential for Britain to provide technology to ‘help with Chinese lunar exploration’ and missions deeper into space.