Recently, with the Mars exploration window approaching, all countries are ready for fire exploration projects. In fact, human enthusiasm for deep space exploration has never waned, either on Mars or on the moon, our closest object. On July 20, 1969, at 20:17:43, the Apollo 11 spacecraft landed in the still sea area of the moon. U.S. astronaut Armstrong has made a deep mark on the moon’s surface, the first successful human landing on the moon. To mark this exciting occasion, July 20 is designated as Human Moon Day.
However, the greatest contribution of the Apollo program in science was not Armstrong’s footprints, but the return of rocks from the moon. From 1969 to 1972, the United States completed six manned moon landings, bringing back about 382 kilograms of lunar samples, and obtained a large number of scientific achievements.
Half a century later, China is finally collecting moonland. According to the plan, China will launch the Chang’e-5 probe at the end of October 2020, by shoveling and drilling two ways to collect lunar samples and bring them back to Earth.
Why do we have to travel all the way to the moon to “dig the earth”? What role can these samples play? Today, let’s explore.
It’s not just a new understanding of the moon.
Decades ago, with the United States and the Soviet Union taking samples from the moon, for thousands of years people could only look up to and guess the moon, was pulled under the microscope of scientists, its mystery was layered.
In addition to understanding the moon, the study of these samples has also helped scientists establish modern planetary science and provideaforous understanding of the geological evolution of various planets.
Eric Javin, a geologist at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, has written that rocks from the moon have revolutionized our understanding of the nature of the moon’s surface, its origins, and the evolution of the solar system.
For example, planetary chemists analyzed isotope composition sourcing lunar samples and found that most of these rocks are older than Earth’s rocks, between 3 billion and 4.5 billion years old. They then built a model that could estimate the age of any location on the moon.
Zheng Yongchun, a researcher at the National Observatory of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, believes that the moon is a transition zone from the moon’s solid lithosphere to the space of the solar system, containing a wealth of information about the regions involved. The study of the lunar soil involves not only the moon itself, but also important information about the space material and energy of the solar system. These include the history of the early evolution of the solar system, the history of cosmic line exposure and irradiation in lunar rocks and lunar soils, the history of volatile degassing in the moon, the composition of the solar wind, the composition of the solar surface, and the history of small objects and micrometeorites hitting the moon.
Ryan Ziegler, head of samples for NASA’s Apollo program, has revealed that over the decades, NASA has received more than 3,000 applications to study special lunar samples, and more than 500 scientists from more than a dozen countries have applied. NASA has distributed more than 50,000 lunar samples for research by scientists in various fields, including astronomy, biology, chemistry, engineering, materials science, medicine, and geology.
In 1978, when Brzezinski, then a U.S. national security adviser, visited China, he presented China with a 1 gram sample of the moon. The stone, which can be seen clearly from a magnifying glass, is split in half, half in the Beijing Planetarium and half by Ouyang Ziyuan, chief scientist of China’s lunar exploration project, to conduct the study. “We’re going to figure out what it is, what it’s old, what it contains,” he said. Ouyang said the researchers not only determined that the sample was collected during the Apollo 17 mission, confirmed the location of the collection, and even analyzed whether the stone area was exposed to sunlight. Based on the study of the stone, they published a total of 40 articles.
In addition to scientific results, the study of lunar rocks is equally important for the development of lunar resources. One of the important achievements of studying lunar samples is the discovery of helium-3, which is extremely exciting for scientists, said Pang Zhihao, the country’s chief scientific communications expert in space exploration.
Helium-3 is a world-recognized fuel for high-efficiency, clean and safe nuclear fusion power generation. It is calculated that 100 tons of helium-3 can generate the same amount of energy that the world consumes in a year. Helium-3 has very few reserves on Earth, with only about 500 kilograms known and easy to access worldwide, and early detection suggests that the moon’s shallow helium-3 content is kale millions of tons, enough to address human energy concerns. In fact, as humans’understanding of the moon deepens, scientists have found that the total reserves of helium-3 are likely to be more.
China’s moon sampling does not “burn money”
Although lunar samples have brought important scientific research to humans, the cost of obtaining samples during the Apollo program was staggering. It has been calculated that the 382 kilograms of samples taken from the moon by the United States cost more than 30 times as much as diamonds of the same weight.
That’s not surprising, because the Apollo program was supposed to be a very expensive project. “There was a saying at the time that every heavy-duty Saturn V rocket launched for the moon was the equivalent of burning an aircraft carrier.” Yang Yuguang, a researcher at the Second Research Institute of China Aerospace Science and Technology Group, said.
A Saturn V heavy rocket cost up to $500 million, and an Apollo moon landing spacecraft is more than ten times more expensive than such heavy gold, Pang said. The Apollo program, which lasted 11 years and cost $25.5 billion, accounts for about 4.5 percent of the U.S. government’s annual budget.
Moreover, the main purpose of the Apollo program was to send astronauts to the moon, and collecting samples was only one of the astronauts’ “operations”. Pang zhihao believes that the sampling mission carried out by astronauts, with a strong flexibility, can be targeted. At the same time, astronauts can carry out mobile exploration, especially from the Apollo 15 mission on the moon rover, which can reach a speed of about 10 kilometers per hour, can make the astronauts’ range of activities greatly increased. However, manned missions are not only costly, but also significantly more technically complex. While it is admirable that Americans were able to send astronauts to the moon half a century ago, Yang yuguang believes that Apollo’s engineering approach is more aggressive, with some equipment that is rarely redundant and risky from a safety perspective.
China’s upcoming Chang’e-5 mission is an unmanned exploration mission built around the main goal of lunar sampling and return. Mr Pang said China’s lunar exploration project had been gradual, with more scientific and much lower costs from unmanned to manned development. However, after landing, the Chang’e-5 probe will only be able to operate in situ.
Liu Jizhong, director of the National Space Administration’s Center for Lunar and Space Engineering, previously revealed that the landing site of the Chang’e-5 probe was the Lumke Mountains, northwest of the moon’s facade. Ouyang since far has introduced that China’s choice of landing point from the Apollo landing site has a distance of thousands of kilometers, will usher in new phenomena, new discoveries.
would be a human outpost in space.
Since the Soviet Union launched “Moon One” in 1959 to open the human lunar exploration, humans have launched more than 130 lunar probes to orbit, land patrol, and even impact to explore the moon.
In the mid-1970s, the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union gradually eased. The Soviet Union withdrew from the race for manned moon landings, and the United States cooled down from the frenzy and stopped the costly moon landings. In the nearly 20 years since then, the world has entered a sober thinking phase of deeply studying the significance of lunar exploration.
During this period, it was widely recognized that lunar exploration was of political, social, technical, scientific and economic significance. Thus, the direction of human lunar exploration has changed from serving political objectives at any cost to combining scientific exploration with economic benefits, with the ultimate aim of rational exploitation of lunar resources.
On January 25, 1994, the United States launched the Clementine probe, obtaining the most detailed image of the lunar surface at the time and discovering that there may be a large amount of water ice at the moon’s south pole. The mission also heralded the arrival of the world’s second lunar exploration boom.
In the future, the moon may become a human outpost in space. After landing on the moon, “standing on the moon” will be the goal of the next stage of humanity, Pang said. Water extracted from the moon can be used for astronauts’ lives, or it can be broken down into hydrogen and oxygen to make the hydrogen-oxygen fuel needed for spacecraft. In the permanent light area of the moon’s poles, solar power plants can be built to provide resources. On the back of the moon, a research station can be built to avoid Earth radio interference and look out at the stars. The helium-3 mentioned earlier may be difficult to bring back to Earth easily and cheaply for a period of time, but it can be used directly on the moon to build a nuclear fusion substation, generating electricity that is transmitted back to the ground wirelessly.
At that time, the lunar base will not only provide resources for mankind and obtain scientific results, but also become a transit point for mankind to travel to distant deep space.