Sending human astronauts to Mars is a dream shared by many, but there are still challenges to overcome and the question of just how to accomplish it is a subject of intense debate. Some supporters advocate sending a mission directly to Mars, while others think that returning to the Moon first, for potentially beneficial training, is the way to go. Indeed, former astronaut James Lovell, who flew on two trips to the Moon, has also called for a return to the Moon first. NASA itself has stated its desire to send a crewed mission to a nearby asteroid first, instead of the Moon, going a bit farther into space than the Moon as its idea of preparation for the much longer journey to Mars. A major problem has been that NASA has still not set a firm timetable for such a mission; it wants to go to Mars, but the steps to achieving that goal are still unclear.
Exactly two years from today, on Aug. 21, 2017, a rare total solar eclipse will be seen again in the skies of the United States, racing east from Oregon to South Carolina. For a brief couple of minutes, the skies will darken as the Moon passes in front of the Sun, revealing the Sun’s corona, which is not normally visible in daylight, to millions of people as it crosses coast to coast for the first time in nearly a century. A total solar eclipse is one of the greatest sights in nature, not to be missed, and many are already making plans to witness the event.
The existence of neon gas in our Moon’s ultra-thin atmosphere has been confirmed for the first time, by NASA’s Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) spacecraft. Its presence had been theorized for decades, but has now finally been confirmed and found to be relatively abundant, even though it’s not nearly enough for the Moon to actually glow like a neon sign.
A beautiful and unique view of the Moon passing in front of the Earth as seen from the Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) satellite. The far side of the Moon, never seen from Earth, is visible here as the Moon passes between the satellite and Earth. The video animation is here. The images were taken between 3:50 p.m. and 8:45 p.m. EDT on July 16, 2015 from 1,609,000 kilometres (1,000,000 miles) away.
Here are a couple of new images taken by the Chinese Chang’e 3 lander and Yutu rover on the Moon. Much better resolution than the first earlier images and nice to finally have some new views from the lunar surface after all these decades! An interesting change from the Mars rovers, which look at a bright, dusty Martian sky, while here there is virtually no atmosphere and perpetual blackness overhead…
After a very successful landing by the Chang’e 3 spacecraft on Saturday, the attached rover, called Yutu or “Jade Rabbit,” detached itself from the lander yesterday, rolling off a ramp and onto the lunar surface at 4:30 am Beijing time.
The landing by a Chinese spacecraft is the first soft landing on the Moon since the manned Apollo missions ended in the 1970s and the Soviet Union’s Luna 24 lander in 1976. Like the launch and landing, the release of the rover was virtually flawless, allowing China to celebrate its continued space exploration achievements in recent years.
Yutu is a six-wheeled, 140 kg (308 pound) solar-powered rover which will explore the landing area of Sinus Iridum or “Bay of Rainbows.” Compared to the Mars rovers, Yutu is rather small, measuring only about 1.5 metres long (with its solar panels folded) but will be capable of conducting detailed analysis of rocks and soil during its nominal 3-month mission. It even has ground-penetrating radar under its belly which can reach below the surface to a depth of about 30-100 metres (100-330 feet).
The full landing sequence video of Chang’e 3 can be watched here.
China is now only the third country to have landed on the Moon, after the United States and the former Soviet Union.
This article was first published on Examiner.com.