While many countries are either working on or planning a moon landing, China’s first moon explorer, code-named Chang’e I, is about to launch, expected at year’s end. With the launch spectator tickets running as high as 1,000 yuan, there seems to be a shortage of supply.
More than 600 years ago, a Ming-dynasty official named Wan Hu (‰∏áÊà∑) bundled himself around a chair, which was strapped with 47 self-made “rockets.” He fired himself into the sky, aspiring for a successful flight, only to end in a hard landing that killed himself, in human’s first attempt to “fly”. One of the craters on the moon was named after him in the 1970s.
Now with the moon orbiter almost on the launching pad, China’s chief scientist for the moon program Ouyang Ziyuan says this is a sure thing for the Chinese who started the process in a difficult way but worked consistently over the years.
Ouyang’s work on the moon started 25 years ago with a half-gram moon rock sample, a gift from former US President Carter’s National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski during his trip in 1978. The special gift looked big, but it was light. Ouyang, then in Guiyang, started research on the rock, keeping half of it and working on the other half. Americans gave such a gift to also test out Chinese research levels and testing capabilities, Ouyang figured, although this was not spelled out by the visitors. Chinese findings on the rock impressed Americans. And it was under this combination of “pressure and drive,” that Chinese started their own moon program, Ouyang noted.
A prelude was, back in 1992, some scientists proposed a Chang’e plan, which called for shooting an iron-made symbol onto the moon as a Chinese print on the planet and a tribune to the Hong Kong handover in 1997. This caused a heated debate among Chinese academia. Beijing later vetoed the plan, thinking that the totally politically-driven plan would have no scientific research value.”
After this, Ouyang was enlisted to draft a formal proposal to explore the moon. By the year end of 1993, a thick report was sent into Zhongnanhai, and Prime Minister Wen Jiabao signed off his name on it in early 2004, officially kicking off the Chang’e I program.
The program, or the first stage of China’s long-haul moon ambition, which includes a manned landing and return, aims to achieve four scientific assignments and five engineering objectives, including shooting 3-D topographic photos, surveying the distribution of special elements, including Helium-3.
One year after orbiting the moon, the moon craft will hit the moon, acquiring high-resolution photos of the planet and collecting data related to the landing moments. While in its orbit, the Chang’e I will also broadcast 30 select Chinese songs, including “Who doesn’t say our hometown is good? (Ë∞Å‰∏çËØ¥‰ø∫ÂÆ∂‰π°Â•Ω)” and “Love my China (Áà±Êàë‰∏≠Âçé).”
Stay tuned. [Full Text in Chinese]
[Images: Ouyang Ziyuan, via oldfriendm.com]