Executive Intelligence Review


Chang’e-4 Opens a New Chapter in Lunar Exploration

Jan. 3, 2018 (EIRNS)—At 02:26 UTC, or 10:26 a.m. Beijing time, today, China achieved a milestone in lunar exploration that had never been attempted by any other nation: The Chang’e-4 lander set down on the surface on the far side of the Moon. The lander and the small rover, named Yutu-2, after its predecessor Yutu, which sits on the opposite, Earth-facing near side of the Moon, will conduct the world’s first highly anticipated in situ study of the near-polar region of the lunar far side. As James Head, Brown University lunar scientist stated: “This is a historic step in the international scientific exploration of the Moon, opening up the ‘luna incognita’ of the lunar far side to surface exploration for the first time.” This advance should also be an historic step in reworking U.S.-China relations in space cooperation.

Speaking on why China chose to undertake a mission on the far side, Wu Weiren, Chief Designer of China’s lunar programs said:

“Exploring the unknown is human nature. The Moon is a mysterious world to us. We have a responsibility to explore and to understand it. Exploration of the Moon will also deepen our understanding of the Earth and ourselves.”

Also interesting were the comments by Prof. M.S. Prasad, from Amity Institute of Space Science and Technology in New Delhi. He said about the success:

“It means opening up more cooperation with the space-faring countries. It will lead to a better geopolitical situation. There will be more robotic and manned missions and hopefully large commercial payload missions. This will open a new era where we have lunar orbiting gateway communication.”

U.S. reporting of this major advancement consisted of short descriptions of the mission. The comments from the NASA leadership was immediate, anticipating a revolution in our understanding of the origin and evolution of the Moon and the Solar System.

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine tweeted:

“Congratulations to China’s Chang’e-4 team for what appears to be a successful landing on the far side of the Moon. This is a first for humanity and an impressive accomplishment.”

NASA Associate Administrator for the Science Mission Directorate Dr. Thomas Zurbuchen tweeted: “As part of the international science community, we look forward to learning about this rather unexplored part of our Moon.”

China’s official CGTN TV network aired short educational videos over last night and this morning, explaining the Chang’e-4 mission, and situating it within China’s multi-phase lunar exploration, and interspersed with comments by various space experts.

CGTN’s “Global Watch,” aired late last night in the U.S., included a half-hour program on Chang’e-4 mission. Chinese aerospace engineer Yang Yuguang answered questions in some detail regarding the mission. Asked about the obstacles to landing on the lunar far side, he mentioned telecommunications and telemetry which required a relay satellite. Yang said that we will move from exploration to exploitation and begin to utilize the resources of the Moon. He said that the most important resource to be exploited on the Moon was helium-3 as a source of fuel for controlled nuclear fusion. It was a critical element recognized by lunar scientist Ouyang Ziyuan, who estimated there were 10,000 years’ worth of helium-3 on the Moon. The same theme is taken up in a separate report on CGTN, in which it said that 40 grams of helium-3 as a fuel for fusion could replace 5,000 tons of coal.

The head of China’s National Space Agency for international cooperation Xu Yansong stated that in addition to the challenge of communication, were geographic challenges, because of mountains in the area. The next steps will be additional robotic missions, and then human missions would be next, and a man-tended lunar base. Asked about international cooperation, Xu said NASA is working on the Lunar Gateway, and China is working on the initial design phase of that. This is the first indication that China is considering participation in the NASA project. China is also willing to be a part of the European Space Agency’s Moon Village effort. The program is important for the common destiny of mankind, he said.