Home / Science / As America celebrates Apollo, a new moon sport is underway: NPR

As America celebrates Apollo, a new moon sport is underway: NPR

An Indian heavy rocket lifts off from the Satish Dhawan Space Center in Sriharikota. The same place will launch India's latest moon mission, Chandrayaan-2, early next week.

R. Parthibhan / AP

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R. Parthibhan / AP

On December 1

4, 1972, a capsule of Apollo 17 lifted the astronauts Eugene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt away from the moon surface.

It was the day people left the moon.

For a long time did not come back, but it changes. China, India and even smaller nations like Israel and South Korea all work with robotic moon missions. Their lunar ambitions are driven both by a desire to flex their technical muscles and by the emergence of global nationalism.

"Every country will say," Look at the things we can do in space, "says Emily Lakdawalla, with the planetary community promoting space exploration.

Apollo mission was the mainstay of a decade that spent competition for the moon, the United States had spent huge sums to beat the Soviet Union, whose manned moon program never made it off the ground, but when the Americans won, both sides lost interest. [19659006] "It was a dry patch," says Lakdawalla, America focused on missions in deeper space, including Viking landers on Mars and Voyager probes to the outer solar system, while the Soviet Union also objected to its Luna series of robotic moon missions and then planned a course to Venus. stayed closer to home, with the United States continuing its space shuttle program, and the Russians are building a series of Earth space stations.

ka to the moon

In the early 2000s, the moon got a new group of visitors. In 2003, the European Space Agency launched a small spacecraft called SMART-1. It was followed by assignments from Japan, China and India. NASA also launched missions, including the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, which mapped the moon in great detail.

And since 2013, China's national space management launched Chang & # 39; e-3. It was the first probe that actually landed on the moon in almost 40 years.

Right from the start, the Chinese have been trying to explore space differently from the United States during Apollo, according to Joan Johnson-Freese, a professor of national security at Naval War College who has studied China's space program.

"They saw we had an attitude to land on the moon and unfortunately looked and said," Been there, done it, got the belt buckles, Johnson-Freese says. "So they decided they would develop their lunar program in a completely different way."

China's long moon march

The Chinese have a step by step. Every step is ambitious, but not too expensive, and not too hard.

"China's exploration of finance and labor has been rational, limited and scientific," said Wu Weiren, chief designer of China's moon exploration program, earlier this year on state television. The reason was the landing of China's latest probe: Chang & e-4. It moved down to multifunctional Monday, January 3, the first time any nation has landed there.

(Left) The robber Yutu-2 (Jade Rabbit-2) took this photo of the Chang & # 4 probe's lander, and (right) Chang & e-4 probe lander took this photo of rover Yutu 2 (Jade Rabbit-2), January 11.

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Xinhua News Agency / Getty Images

Bob Wimmer, a researcher at the University of Kiel in Germany, built a radiation detector for Chang & # 39; e-4. He says how fast the Chinese work is surprising.

"European missions are extremely slow, Americans are twice as fast and Chinese are another two to five times faster than Americans," he says. "It's just extremely intense."

From the moment he got funding to the moment his experiment was launched was just over a year, which is nothing for a space mission. Wimmer describes it as "totally crazy", but he adds that he would work with the Chinese again.

It remains to be seen whether Chinese astronauts will follow in Apollo's footsteps. Wimmer believes that the radiation detector he has installed on Chang & e-4 can only serve one purpose: "prepare to land a human on the moon, so that they know what the radiation environment is."

Johnson-Freese says that the Chinese space program has not yet committed to sending a human crew to the moon. Officially, she says, space missions are organized along two tracks – one that sends people on a mission to low ground, while the other sends robots to search the moon.

She also believes that the two sides of the Chinese program could come together in the future. "Their perseverance leads me to believe that the next voice transfer that we come from the moon could be in Mandarin," Johnson-Freese says.

India Goes for a Landing

China is not the only country looking at the moon. In early next week, India plans to launch Chandrayaan-2, its second mission to the moon and the first to attempt a soft landing. There would be just over a decade after their first assignment, an orbiter called Chandrayaan-1, 2008.

Chandrayaan-2 landlord Vikram in the foreground and the mission's orbits in the background at the Indian Space Research Organization in Bengaluru. The mission, due to launch this month, will be the first time India tries a soft landing on the moon.

Pallava Bagla / Getty Images

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Pallava Bagla / Getty Images

Chandrayaan-1 helped Turbocharge India's space program, according to Sriram Bhiravarasu, a researcher at the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston. "The enthusiasm was superhigh. It just ignited a spark in the Indian scientists," he says. "I started my PhD shortly after Chandrayaan-1 was launched."

When India's research community goes, he says the nation wants to move on to other destinations.

"India plans missions for Venus exploration and also for Mars in the coming years," he says.

Johnson-Freese says that, just as during the Cold War, much of this new space enthusiasm is very grounded in earthly politics. and China is competing for geopolitical points in Asia. They hope that the space programs will make them look strong. "Space has always brought technological development," she says. "So, both India and China are very keen to show others in the region that they are the country – that they are the ones they should want to work with. "Planetary Society's Lakdawalla welcomes the competition if it means more moon science will be completed. It has been decades since someone has visited the moon's surface, and there is still a lot for people to discover everywhere, "she said," it's definitely time for researchers to get back to the moon. "

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