The Moon has always captivated and mesmerized humans since the beginning of human existence. So it’s no wonder that over 50 years since man first put the Moon in their sights, many counties have once again heated up the race.
China’s Chang’e-3 will be launched in the next few days and if successful it will be the first probe to the Moon in 37 years. The probe will be launched from Xichang Satellite Launch Center December 2nd and they hope to land on the Moon December 14th. The last probe to land on the Moon was the Russian Luna 24 which landed on the Moon in 1976.
China’s probe is in 2-parts, the landing vehicle and the robot rover, Yutu. The landing area picked for the probe is in the Moon’s “Sea of Rainbows.” The rover is autonomous and will not be driven by human drivers, but it does have the capability to be driven from Earth.
Assisting the Chinese in their efforts is the European Space Agency from their location in Kourou, French Guiana. The ESA will be aiding the Chinese by tracking the delivery of the probe during its flight.
Yutu is expected to be in operation for only 3 short months, but if it is successful, the Chinese have much bigger plans in the future. The Chinese then hope to land another rover on the surface of Mars, where they will collect samples to be returned to Earth. China also plans to land a person on the Moon in 2025.
Helping China to heat up the race to the Moon once again, is the Japanese. Tokyo construction firm, Shimizu Corp., has an innovative idea to build a 6,800-mile solar belt around the Moon. They hope construction can begin as early as 2035.
Shimizu Corp. says they hope to be able to generate 13,000-terawatts of power every year, solving the world’s energy problems. By measure, the entire United States generated only 4,500-terawatts in 2011. This plan would also eliminate the need for nuclear power in Japan.
The plan includes mining robots that will help create the solar panels needed to create the 250 mile wide belt, which will run around the Moon’s equator. The energy will then be beamed to Earth via microwave transmission and lasers, and collected by “receiving stations” on earth.
Japan previously launched a satellite to the Moon back in 2007, to help understand its origin and evolution. The KAGUYA satellite investigated the entire Moon, from the elemental and mineral composition, to its magnetic and gravitational field. The satellite also measures plasma, electrical fields and high-energy particles. KAGUYA’s purpose was said to be for the knowledge needed for future human endeavors in space.
NASA also has the Moon in their sights once again. In an effort to possibly colonize space one day, NASA plans to launch a 1 kg “self-contained habitat” on a commercial spaceflight to the lunar surface. NASA will send their experiment to the Moon using the Moon Express Lander and a participant of the Google Lunar X Prize.
NASA’s “habitat” will contain germination materials and seeds from Earth to see if it is possible to set up a permanent habitat for humans in space. Data will be sent back to Earth from cameras and on-board sensors. Once on the Moon, water will be added to the package and monitored for 5-10 days, comparing the results to a control test on Earth.
Google’s Lunar X Prize is a competition which will award $20 million to the first team to successfully land a robot on the Moon, sending images and data to Earth, while traveling a distance of 500 meters. Google’s contest runs until the end of 2015.
From lighting our way in the dark, to captivating the hearts of lovers, it was only a matter of time that the race to the moon is heated up once again. As more countries and companies aim skyward, the Moon is the first stop on the way.
By Brent Matalla