November 5, 2010

China's first lunar satellite orbits the Moon – 2007

Called Chang'e 1, this unmanned spacecraft was launched on October 24, 2007. Today is the third anniversary of the day that Chang'e 1 successfully reached lunar orbit. It began transmitting photos and 3-D images that were later used to create maps. Other goals reached included analyzing and mapping the abundance and distribution of various chemical elements that may be useful resources in the future.

The satellite was deliberately crashed into the Moon at the end of its mission, in March, 2009.

Earlier this month (October 1, 2010), China successfully launched Chang'e2. On October 6, it reached its working orbit. This spacecraft has a better camera than that of Chang'e 1. This year's satellite also reached the Moon in half the time needed by its predecessor.

There are plans for soft landers, automated sample return, and even manned lunar landers eventually. I can't help wondering if the U.S. will return to the Moon once Chinese astronauts start exploring it?!

Who's been to the Moon?

The name of the spacecraft, Chang'e, is the name of the Chinese goddess of the Moon. Of course, Chang'e doesn't really live on the Moon (any more than the Western "man in the Moon" does). As a matter of fact, only 12 male American astronauts have ever walked on the Moon--no women, so far, and no one from any other country.

We might ask, how many other countries have sent unmanned satellites there?

The Soviet Union was first, with Luna 2 impacting the Moon in 1959.
The United States was next, with Ranger 4 crashing on the Moon in 1962.
After a long gap in which no additional countries entered the very short list of lunar explorers, Japan reached it with a controlled crash landing in 1993 (Hiten). In 2006 the European space agency made the list with SMART 1, and in 2008 India did the same with MIP, both again controlled impacts.

The start of a beautiful friendship?

Some space scientists are excited that nine countries have signed a landmark agreement to carry out lunar exploration cooperatively. The countries are the United States, India, Japan, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, and South Korea. So far plans are for a flotilla of unmanned explorers, although of course many people would like to see humans explore the Moon once again. For example, people dream of becoming the first man or woman from their country on the Moon.


...this puzzle of the SMART 1 lunar probe. 

...this puzzle of India's Chandrayaan 1 lunar spacecraft.

...this slide show of Apollo astronauts exploring the Moon. 

Build a Moon habitat. 

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