In January, China made history by landing the spacecraft Chang’e-4 on the far side of the moon. It was a surprise to many Americans, who’ve been in the habit of looking at lunar exploration as “been there, done that.” But while the US has been cutting back on space exploration for decades, other countries have been going all out in reaching for the heavens.
If you missed the Chinese mission, maybe it’s because you were focussed on the remarkably inexpensive spacecraft from SpaceIL, an Israeli nonprofit organization, which crash-landed into the moon on April 11th, soon after taking a selfie while hovering above the lunar surface. The crash was not the original plan, and SpaceIL has already announced its intention of going to the moon again. But maybe you weren’t paying attention to SpaceIL, either, because you were anticipating India’s Chandrayaan-2 moon lander, expected to take off later this year. Or you were waiting for Japan’s first lunar-lander-and-rover mission, scheduled to take place next year. Perhaps you’ve been distracted by the announcement, in January, on the night of the super blood wolf moon, that the European Space Agency plans to mine lunar ice by 2025. Or by Vice-President Mike Pence’s statement, in March, that the United States intends “to return American astronauts to the moon within the next five years.”
Why are so many space programs aiming at the moon, fifty years after the Apollo program? There are many reasons, many of which boil down to “money to be made.” The moon has valuable minerals to be mined. It has water that can be used to make both oxygen and rocket fuel. The moon is a great place to collect solar power. And there’s always the promise of space tourism. In all these ventures, there’s lots of money to be made in helping someone else get there. Read about the race to get back to the moon at the New Yorker. -via Damn Interesting
(Image credit: Jessie Eastland) https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Supermoon_02-18-2019.jpg