China goes to the moon

opinion January 13, 2014 00:00

By Suwatchai Songwanich
Chief E

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It is now almost a month since China's historic robotic moon landing. Space buffs and scientists alike are excited about what we might learn from the explorations of the lunar rover. Already there have been surprises in the high-quality images sent back f

The importance of China’s moon mission was emphasised by Chinese President Xi Jinping, who last week paid a visit to the space scientists and engineers involved. Reflecting the national pride in this remarkable achievement, President Xi said the prints of the space rover Yu Tu on the moon “represent the extraordinary creativity of the Chinese nation and its contribution to human civilization.”
The choice of names reflects China’s enthusiasm for preserving its heritage as well as building a path to the future – in Chinese mythology, Yu Tu (jade rabbit) represents the rabbit borne to the moon by the goddess Chang’e. 
China is only the third country in the world to land on the moon, after the US and the Soviet Union, and the first to do so since 1976. Given the huge advances in technology over the past four decades, the Chinese rover’s discoveries are expected to add greatly to public scientific knowledge. 
The landing was made on the giant lava-filled basin Mare Imbrium, an extremely geologically rich area, reflecting one of the major purposes of the mission – exploring the moon’s mineral wealth and analysing soil samples.
The scientific information from the mission will follow on from the discoveries of China’s earlier lunar probes in 2007 and 2010, which explored the soil layer of the moon and measured environmental factors such as electromagnetism and solar wind, enabling China to create a three-dimensional map of the moon. 
China’s next major goal will be a manned lunar landing, which could take place this decade, as well as the establishment of a permanent space base to be used for further space exploration and development.
Although there are plenty of benefits for China in terms of national pride and public image, science will still be the biggest beneficiary of China’s space programme. The glamour and excitement will help attract the country’s best and brightest minds into the fields of science and technology and this in turn will enable China to solve future energy and technical problems. Strength in space will also be critical in the future for protecting territory, sovereignty and assets, as well as communications systems.
China has long been determined to become a leader in space and the Chang’e-3 mission has shown that it is well on the way to achieving its goal. It also seems to have attracted fresh interest from other quarters, with India and Russia both planning their own missions to the moon. 
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