At exactly 1:30 a.m. on December 2, the Long March-3B rocket blasted off the launch pad at Xichang Satellite Launch Centre in China. The carrier rocket contained a landing module and a sophisticated six-wheel moon rover named Jade Rabbit, or Yutu.
By Mid-December, the payload should have arrived at its destination on the lunar surface when serious exploration efforts will commence. The designated landing site is the well-known relatively flat volcanic plain called Sinus Iridum. It offers an ideal landing spot due to its lack of large rocks.
A Journey of a Thousand Miles
It seems like forever since mankind undertook a successful lunar landing. The last mission on the moon was by the United States in 1972. Since then, all we have had to rely on in our lunar studies are long range technologies.
For China, this will be the first time a lunar Landing of any kind will be attempted. The Lunar Exploration program, led by the China National Space Administration (CNSA), started way back in 2007 when the first unmanned space craft was launched. This was quickly followed by another launch, also unmanned, in 2010. Neither of these two missions made any lunar landing.
This year’s mission will land a robotic rover on the surface of the moon, allowing a deeper study of Earth’s celestial sister. The next mission, planned for 2017, will see samples of the moon’s surface returned back to Earth for study. In 2025-2030 a manned lunar landing is expected.
China is increasingly flexing its muscles and showing its growing global superiority. Landing on the moon will be a huge step towards cementing its presence on the world stage. The decreasing influence of the United States is a huge plus for the Asian giant.
Prof Ouyang Ziyuan, the Chief Scientist of the program, bluntly stated that efforts at Lunar Exploration are a reflection of the country’s power and prestige and will boost national cohesion.
China’s ambitions however, go further beyond creating a powerful statement. Scientists are actively looking into how the Moon’s natural resources can supplement Earth’s energy production.
Of particular interest is the mineral Helium-3 and solar power. Helium-3 is considered to be a good fuel for nuclear fusion; a process that could power the earth for a further 10,000 years. The Moon contains large amounts of this mineral.
The lack of air on the Moon makes it perfect for solar panel, which Professor Ouyang believes would operate far more efficiently than they do here on earth. A belt of solar panels, he insists, are capable of supporting the whole world.
China is also after various other rare elements such as uranium and titanium which could prove useful in various manufacturing processes.
A Rising Superpower
A few decades ago, no one would have imagined that China would be where it is today. In terms of technology, economics and finance, it has been making huge progress and it is only logical that conquering the world beyond earth be the next goal.
Ultimately China hopes to set up a permanent space station and establish a moon base from where it can even carry out lunar mining activities. Future missions will be directed towards further worlds such as Mars.
By Isaac Mathu