New moon race?

Monday, November 5, 2007

In 2004, Pres. Bush announced a new space policy, the Vision for Space Exploration. The vision is an overview of where manned and unmanned space vehicles will be traveling in the years to come.

It calls for the completion of the International Space Station by 2010, the same year that the Space Shuttle is to be retired. The Orion spacecraft, which is to be used to return Americans to the moon by 2019, is to be developed next year as part of Project Constellation, with an ultimate goal of traveling to Mars. Robotic trips to the moon are scheduled for next year.

The moon is a popular destination, it seems. Yesterday, China launched its first lunar probe and Japan has also launched a lunar probe.

China's Chang'e 1 orbiter, named after a mythical Chinese goddess who lives on the moon, is expected to orbit the moon for a year, offering Chinese researchers satellite images of the moon and other data that will be crucial for the country to launch a space vehicle and taikonaut to the moon. The first round of satellite images should be sent back to researchers sometime in late November.

Japan's orbiter, the Selenological and Engineering Explorer, or SELENE, is in position to begin its project to analyze and map the surface of the moon. The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) is currently working on a lunar mission it hopes to launch sometime next spring.

Russia has plans to send cosmonauts to the Moon by 2025 and establish a permanent manned base there in 2027-2032.

So what's the big deal about the moon?

There are some conspiracy theory buffs that believe that the Apollo moon landings of the 1970s were staged here on Earth. Others believe that the Chinese missions are preludes to an arms race in space, combating the missile defense system that the United States has working on for the past 20 years.

In the early 1960s, Pres. John F. Kennedy set forth the bold vision that put Americans on the moon, uniting our nation in a common goal. Space exploration should be used for peaceful purposes.

This new moon race should not be an arms race.