The mission was successful, and Chang’e 2 sent back some nice-looking images, 100 times higher in resolution than the first probe (called Chang’e 1, who’da thunk). After taking these photos of The Bay of Rainbows, it’s going to do one of three things: crash into the moon, float out to space or return to Earth. Bad end for the robot.
Chang’e 2 was sent to take these photos, because this is where China is planning to send their first lunar rover in 2013. By 2017, they will have lunar rocks brought back to Earth. China plans to have an unmanned lunar base by 2020, and they want manned craft on the moon by 2025.
After doing some research, I noticed my previous comparison of this “Asian space race” to the Cold War competition between Russia and America wasn’t that far off. As in, it’s actually a thing. And while not ostensibly heated or undertoned with nuclear war, as much of the Cold War was, the competition between China, India and Japan (“the big three”) is pretty apparent. Read this post from Wall Street Journal’s “China Realtime” blog from before Chang’e 2 was launched for more info.
This space race is going to get pretty interesting. While lacking fossil fuels, it has other sources of energy—which will become a big deal as fossil fuels on Earth dwindle and eventually disappear. One of the most common is helium-3, which is valuable because of its potential in nuclear fusion research.
Not the kind from that old Japanese cartoon; the kind from Sim City, which “It is the ultimate power source of the future. Requiring a large sum of money, it is clean, reliable, provides a lot of power and has no risk of having a meltdown” (that’s from the game, to be clear).
Helium-3 is constantly being thrown every which-way by the sun, but our magnetosphere repels it away from Earth. The moon, having no magnetosphere, acts like a net; there is a lot of this stuff on the outer layer of the moon.
Couple this with the more-recent finding that the moon has more water than we thought, and it looks increasingly likely that we’ll be using our humble little pet rock for some big projects, down the line.
Like I said before. We’re pretty officially in the future.