China needs to prepare for cooperation, competition with NASA on lunar exploration

China should be prepared for both cooperation and competition with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), since NASA is paying great attention to China’s lunar exploration mission, said a Chinese expert on Thursday after NASA photographed China’s new lunar lander on the far side of the moon.

China needs to prepare for cooperation, competition with NASA on lunar exploration 

The Business Insider reported on Wednesday that a month after China pulled off its historic Chang’e 4 mission, which landed robots on the moon’s far side for the first time, NASA has released an image further proving the feat was a success.

Chang’e 4, China’s fourth robotic lunar mission, is named after a mythical lunar goddess. It was launched on December 8, and the rover and lander touched down on the moon on January 3.

NASA photographed the Chinese landing site on January 30 with a moon-circling spacecraft called the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO). Researchers published the new picture at the agency’s LRO mission blog on Wednesday.

Song Zhongping, an aerospace expert and TV commentator, told the Global Times on Thursday that political motives are driving NASA to keep its eye on Chang’e 4. 

“NASA needs to verify the success of China’s mission, or the US needs to prove China’s capability on lunar exploration from its own perspective. This is the main reason,” he said.

For technological reasons, Chang’e 4 is providing a perfect opportunity for LRO to test its capability to search for targets on the moon, or “a chance to test the LRO’s capabilities,” Song noted.

The car-sized lander is expected to last about 12 months on the moon’s far side – the lunar face we can’t see from Earth. Chang’e 4 also deployed a desk-sized rover called Yutu 2 or “Jade Rabbit” that should last about three months under brutal conditions. 

China’s mission landed inside a 116-mile-wide impact site called the Von Kármán Crater. It’s part of the South Pole-Aitken Basin, a 1,550-mile-wide scar made by a collision about 3.9 billion years ago. The crash may have splattered deep geologic layers of the moon on its surface, which makes it an especially interesting area to study, Business Insider reported.

China did not initially say where Chang’e 4 had landed. So shortly after Chinese state media shared the first landing images, Noah Petro, a lunar scientist at NASA, compared them to LRO images to figure out precisely where the mission had touched down within Von Kármán crater, Business Insider reported.

This isn’t the first time NASA used its LRO spacecraft to study a Chinese moon landing. On December 30, 2013, scientists also used LRO to locate China’s Chang’e 3 mission on the lunar surface. Those images were used in an animated before-and-after comparison that clearly show a lander and rover as small, independent dots, according to Business Insider.

The images of Chang’e 4 taken last week came from LRO’s first flyover opportunity of the landing site. In future orbits, the LRO should be able to see Chang’e 4 directly from above as it did for Chang’e 3.

Inevitable competition

If China and the US can cooperate on lunar exploration without competition and mutual exclusion, it would be a fortune for humanity, Song said. “The two countries need to put aside their differences and reach an agreement on making joint efforts on space exploration for humanity.”

“However, with the development of lunar exploration technologies around the globe, competition between major powers on lunar exploration is unavoidable, and this is a realistic situation that China must be prepared for,” Song added. 

The US and Russia have announced they would cooperate on building the first lunar space station. Part of a long-term project to send humans to Mars, the NASA-led program will see the two countries working to create a crewed spaceport in lunar orbit, but China is not included in this project, the Guardian reported on September 27, 2017. 

In December 2017, US President Donald Trump told NASA to return to the moon, and other major powers like Russia, Japan, India and the EU have their own lunar exploration plans.

If China doesn’t want to be surpassed by others, it must keep pushing forward its mission and be prepared for both cooperation and competition with NASA and other countries’ aerospace administrations with notable potentials, Song noted.


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