Thursday, March 18, 2010

China Accelerates Its Lunar Plans


After announcing recently that it will soon begin working on its own space station, the Chinese space agency is now accelerating its plans to go to the Moon. Plans call for this to be achieved by using orbiters at first, then with automated landers, and later with spacecrafts capable of sample-return missions. The country is also planning setting up its own laboratory to handle the rocks that will be brought back from Earth's natural satellite, so as to prevent the risk of biological cross-contamination.

The NASA Apollo-era Lunar Receiving Laboratory (LRL) facility, located at the Houston, Texas-based Johnson Space Center, is most likely the inspiration for the new Chinese initiative. Experts say that this facility was especially set up to handle the flow of lunar rocks brought back by the Apollo astronauts. According to official NASA documents, more than 842 pounds (382 kilograms) of moon rocks, core samples, pebbles, sand and dust, were brought back from the Moon, between 1969 and 1972. In three years, six missions managed to get to our natural satellite, and harvest the required samples.

“I am aware that there have been inquiries about our curation of lunar samples and I infer that they are interested in our procedures,” says JSC Lunar Curator and senior planetary scientist Gary Lofgren. China announced that it planned to explore the Moon step-by-step, in the sense that it will develop the technology necessary for each individual stage of its exploration program, and then use it when the time is right. In other words, the nation will not attempt to land a human crew on the Moon in 2 years, for example, as that would be unfeasible. However, sending another orbiter is a distinct possibility, as it has already done this before.

The country is currently in the stage where it's constructing its experience level, in the sense that it tries out all types of space missions, including manned spacewalks, in order to test its capabilities. “I anticipate that we will communicate in the future though there are no specific plans at present,” Lofgren says. At this point, China is manifesting its intentions to construct an advanced facility to handle its future samples, but a few years will pass before either the lab or the actual lunar mission take place, Space reports. China Accelerates Its Lunar Plans.


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