Japan shoots for the Moon!

kaguya-launch.jpg

Yesterday morning, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) launched an unmanned flight which brings Japan’s goal of a manned moon-base by 2025 that much closer.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/space/article/0,,2169428,00.html

The space craft, nicknamed “Kaguya” after the moon princess in a Japanese fairy tale, will release 2 smaller satellites when in the moon’s orbit. These 3 satellites will then survey previously unmapped areas of the Lunar surface and conduct other experiment. This is all part of a plan to build a manned moonbase by 2025.

There seems to be a rush of interest in the moon. India and China have plans for moonshots, and the USA intends to launch a lunar orbiter next year.

It’s a pity that the US Government decided to abandon moon missions after the Apollo programme and focus on the space shuttle instead. Sure, we gained many wonderful technologies thanks to the shuttle and satellites – GPS and satellite TV to name just two – but they would probably have been developed anyway if NASA had pressed on with plans for moon bases and missions to Mars.

japanese_mooncraft.jpg

Developing bases on the moon would be very handy in planning missions to Mars and the outer planets. The moon would be an excellent place to site a space ship factory – they could take off much more easily from there than from the earth, as the moon’s gravitational pull is only about a sixth of that here. Of course, such a factory would only be possible if there were some easy way to get raw materials to the moon. But who knows what resources are waiting to be discovered up there? Already there have been reports of water ice in some craters. Beneath the lunar surfaces there could be metal ores and other elements needed for space flight.

Many people think that space exploration is a waste of time and money. They say we should sort out the problems here on earth before reaching for the stars. But I disagree. For one thing, “necessity is the mother of invention” – great technological advances have been made because of war, for example. I think that space exploration is a much better spur to development than world war.

And exploring other worlds will help us to understand more about our own. For example, Venus’s atmosphere contains a high proportion of carbon dioxide – and the greenhouse effect is strikingly evident there.

All in all, I think the launch of Kaguya is A Good Thing. I really do hope that the Japanese manage to get their moonbase built by 2025… and I’d love to go there when it’s done!

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