The successful soft-landing of China’s Chang’e-4 lunar spacecraft on the far side of the Moon promises further space development to benefit all nations, just as NASA’s Apollo Program (1963-72) made technological breakthroughs from which all nations on Earth have reaped the rewards.
After launching on 8 December 2018, the Chang’e-4 probe, comprising a lander and a rover, touched down at a preselected location at 177.6 degrees east longitude and 45.5 degrees south latitude on 3 January at 10:26 AM (Beijing Time), the China National Space Administration (CNSA) announced. The probe’s relative velocity to the Moon was lowered from a blisteringly fast 1.7 km per second to close to zero, an amazing feat made possible with a lunar-orbiting communications satellite as radio signals cannot directly reach the far side of the Moon from Earth.
The landing site, in the Von Kármán lunar crater, is part of the South Pole-Aitken basin, and at roughly 2,500 km in diameter and 13 km deep, it is one of the largest known impact craters in the Solar System. Any new discoveries about the mineral composition at such a deep level have great potential for scientific advancement. In particular, this deep basin is expected to contain large quantities of helium-3, an isotope suited for fusion power that is exceedingly rare on Earth. This energy-dense resource could potentially power a global economic renaissance for many thousands of years.
The Chang’e-4 probe, carrying eight payloads including two developed through international cooperation, will conduct low-frequency radio astronomical observation, survey the terrain and landforms, detect the mineral composition and shallow lunar surface structure, and measure the neutron radiation and neutral atoms to study the environment on the far side of the moon, according to CNSA. Ground stations for deep space communications in Namibia and Argentina played an important role in the Chang’e-4 mission.
China’s successful economic model of government-directed credit into high-technology projects has made this space achievement possible, not to mention lifting 800 million people from poverty since 1978. Andrew Jones in the GBTimes of 28 December summarised China’s accomplishments in space in 2018. They include:
- China’s record 38 launches, “smashing” its 2016 record of 22 launches in one year. These included civilian, commercial, and military payloads. The payload mass was half that of the USA, as there were a number of smaller satellites.
- By far, the most exciting launches were the two for this lunar far side mission—the relay satellite launch, and then the spacecraft holding the lander and rover.
- China’s first commercial launches took place, with two companies succeeding in suborbital launches. A “second wave” of commercial companies was also created.
- In addition to launches, China opened up the manufacture of small satellites to the private sector.
- A new round of astronaut selection to choose 18 new astronauts for the upcoming space station is under way, and in May, 15 Chinese astronauts completed a 19-day program of field survival training in the Badain Jaran Desert in the northwest of the country, simulating an emergency return to Earth and landing scenario.
There was increased international cooperation in space during 2018, including foreign cooperation on the Chang’e-4 spacecraft. A joint program with the UN was created to have emerging space nations contribute experiments on the upcoming space station. CNSA Director Zhang Kejian announced in September that China will invite international partners to place a 10 kg payload for small experiments on the planned Chang’e-6 lunar return mission. (Unfortunately, US law prevents NASA cooperation with China on space projects and therefore prohibits China from participating in the International Space Station—making China’s achievement even more impressive.)
As Wu Weiren, chief of China’s lunar program, stated so eloquently right after the Chang’e-4 landing: “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 Earth and ourselves.”
Anglo-American war party hysterical
The Express headline on 3 January, “World War 3 SPACE WARNING”, exemplifies the unhinged reaction from the Anglo-American warmongers. “China is a worry and some might say it is a bigger threat than Russia”, said an anonymous British government source.
According to the 3 January Telegraph, “government sources and military experts” claim China’s Moon landing marks a growing space threat to Britain and the world. Among those quoted was Nigel Inkster, former director of operations and intelligence at MI6, now Senior Advisor at the International Institute for Strategic Studies: “I don’t think China has made any secret of its space ambitions and certainly there is a military element to that. China is acutely aware that the US have designs on space military capabilities and is looking to make sure it can match or outmatch them and develop a military force to be a credible threat. It sends a signal that they now have greater capabilities and I think Donald Trump will certainly use it to insist on a new Space Force.”
But what is the reality? China for centuries has not had an imperialistic agenda, and continues to call for win-win outcomes for all nations. By contrast Anglo-American wars and meddling are the real threat to world peace. From the 19th-century Opium Wars when Britain invaded China to forcibly drug the Chinese people, to today’s provocative Anglo-American naval manoeuvres off the coast of China, it’s understandable that China seeks to defend its sovereignty. But it’s absurd to suggest that a scientific mission to the far side of the Moon represents any military threat, particularly when China wants to share the benefits of this mission with all nations. With the new Australian Space Agency founded in July 2018, we should open our arms to China’s warm invitation to be involved in mutually beneficial space programs.