Race to the Moon

Usually my son keeps me up-to-date on all the probes and missions that are out there in space. But recently even he had to admit that the number is growing to the point where it is becoming difficult to follow everything. I was sifting through some information for 2018 and was surprised by the number of planned probes there are for the moon. First and foremost is China’s Chang’e 4 mission. China who is planning to send an orbiter/lander/rover to a previously unexplored area on the far side of the moon. It may turn out to be just another “routine” lunar expedition, but it sounds exciting to me.

Chang’e 4 was originally built as a backup to Chang’e 3. It was originally planned for 2015, so it is behind schedule. But it is a part of a series of unmanned landers the Chinese are sending to the moon in preparation for a manned mission. So to paraphrase a famous quote “it may be just another “small step” moon lander, but it is leading to the “big step” manned mission”. In addition to the usual compliment of scientific instruments, Chinese scientists will conduct an experiment to see if plants and insects can grow together. Silk worms will hatch and give off carbon dioxide which will be used by plants to provide oxygen.

But there will be company for China on the moon. India’s space agency, ISRO, is also planning to launch an orbiter/lander/rover to the moon in 2018. While not as ambitious as the Chang’e 4 mission, the Channdrayaan 2 will if successful basically accomplish the same mission of soft landing on the moon and depositing a lander. And in addition to China and India, 2018 is the year that the winner of Google Lunar X competition will be decided. There are still five private companies remaining that are planning to launch in 2018 all with the purpose of landing a rover on the moon in order to win the prize of $20 million.

Talk about a space race. 2018 is shaping up to be one of the most exciting in years. And in addition to China, India, and five private companies, there are an additional seven companies that withdrew from the Google Lunar X competition, but are still planning to launch a probe to the moon in 2018 or 2019. In short, the moon is about to become a very busy place.

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