Sunday, November 2, 2014

China Hails Moon Orbiter Success

November 2, 2014 6:07 am

China hails moon orbiter success

This picture taken on November 1, 2014 shows technicians checking the unmanned probe landed in Dorbod (Siziwang) Banner, north China's Inner Mongolia region. China completed its first return mission to the moon early on November 1 with the successful re-entry and landing of an unmanned probe, state media reported, in the latest step forward for Beijing's ambitious space programme. CHINA OUT AFP PHOTO©AFP
As US investigators sift through the wreckage of two accidents, China’s space programme has taken another small step forward with the return of an unmanned spacecraft that orbited the moon for eight days.
China’s long march into space has so far followed a well-trodden path. The return of the orbiter replicates a technological feat achieved by the US and Soviet Union more than 40 years ago, but is a skill necessary for China’s plans to send an astronaut to the moon.
Although not scientifically or technologically groundbreaking – India, by contrast, in September placed a satellite in orbit around Mars – China’s advance plays on fears in Washington that the US is losing its edge in space. The US is already dependent on Russia to ferry astronauts to the International Space Station after retiring its fleet of space shuttles.
“Few countries can rival China’s space programme although China never intended to participate in any ‘space race’”, state-run news agency Xinhua reported following the successful return of the spacecraft on Saturday.
The US Congress in March 2013 enacted laws that specifically forbid Nasa from any co-operation with China, a ban that has cast a shadow over scientific collaboration between the two nations.
A year ago, American scientists were outraged when a Chinese scholar at Yale was banned from a conference on planets beyond our solar system, simply because the conference was held in a building belonging to Nasa.
China has logged a number of milestones in its path to the moon, including putting so-called “taikonauts” into orbit around the earth in 2003 and docking with an orbiting space laboratory in June 2013. In 2017 China plans an unmanned mission to collect samples from the moon’s surface, followed by a manned mission around 2025.
Meanwhile, initiatives to build a private US space industry suffered two setbacks last week. On Friday, Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo exploded during a test flight, killing one of two pilots and injuring the other. The craft had been intended to begin taking tourists into the lower reaches of space in March 2015.
On Tuesday, a privately operated rocket carrying supplies to the space stationcrashed shortly after launch.
China has encountered some problems of its own. In January, the Jade Rabbit lunar probe successfully landed on the moon but was then crippled by a mechanical failurethat prevented it from fully covering its monitoring and communications equipment before entering hibernation during the lunar night.
The Jade Rabbit’s functions “have degraded considerably after it encountered control issues in January this year,” Xinhua said on Saturday.

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