Monday, September 23, 2013

China's Lunar Mission Will Boost Research and Awareness

Chinese scientists work on the Chang'e-3 spacecraft. Credit: China Space News

China could take advantage of its Chang'e-3 lunar exploration mission to boost international cooperation on space exploration and promote space education and awareness among the public, a leading expert from the United States said on Sunday. Speaking on the sidelines of a Galaxy Forum workshop held in Beijing, Steve Durst, founding director of the International Lunar Observatory Association, said the sharing of imaging technologies would be key to such exchanges.

"We will use the ultraviolet lunar telescope aboard the Chang'e-3 to conduct astronomical imaging for educational purposes," he said, "and with an exchange in kind, researchers from China National Space Administration and National Astronomical Observatories of Chinese Academy of Sciences can use the ILO-X and ILO-1 instruments in 2015."

The ILO-X and ILO-1 are lunar telescopes that will go to the moon with a privately sponsored lunar lander in 2015, according to Durst, who initiated the Galaxy Forum events in 2008 to advance public awareness of space, particularly among students.

He said the cooperative project between the association and the China National Space Administration will enable astronomers to observe the central part of the Milky Way galaxy for the first time.

The model of Chang'e-3 lunar probe and rover, CZ-3B - Xichang. Credit: nasaspaceflight.com
The model of Chang'e-3 lunar probe and rover, CZ-3B - Xichang. Credit: nasaspaceflight.com

"The association is the first US space organization to have an agreement with Chinese authorities on cooperation," he said, adding that it first established links with Chinese astronomers two years ago when China announced its plan for the Chang'e-3 probe. The association signed a memorandum of understanding with the China National Space Administration in August.

Professor Liu Hong, director of the Research Center of Space Life Science and Life Support Technology at Beihang University in Beijing, said that Chinese scientists have been promoting cooperation with their foreign peers in space research.

Liu said her center has been involved in extensive collaboration with foreign institutes to develop the life support systems for China's lunar mission.

"We have a wide range of communication and exchanges with our foreign counterparts and are performing joint research into aspects of lunar exploration."

The Chang'e-3 probe has been scheduled to enter space at the end of this year for its lunar landing mission, the Chinese space authority announced in August.

The mission, the second phase of China's lunar program, will see a Chinese orbiter soft-land on the celestial body for the first time. The Chang'e-3 moon rover will also roam the moon's surface to conduct exploratory patrols.

Durst underscored the significance of the Chang'e-3 mission, saying it will spur governments around the world to invest more in space exploration and education.

"For 38 years no spacecraft has landed on the moon. The landing of the Chang'e-3 is very likely to accelerate plans for astronauts (landing) on the moon, both in China and the US, and it will also facilitate our space education programs," he said.

China's lunar exploration effort means not only that humans will return to the moon, but also that "we are going to expand our reach to places even farther than the moon", Durst explained, suggesting that educators and students should "think big" and be inspired to explore the universe.

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