China's lunar probing program formally started when the project was approved by the state in January 2004, marking a significant step forward in the country's deep space exploration.
At the invitation of People's Daily, three experts in this field wrote a special article to make an overall introduction to the national moon probing project.
Probing the moon in a fast, efficient and economical way
(By Sun Jiadong, general designer of the program)
Prologue to deep space exploration
For China to conduct deep space probe with the moon as a starting point is a natural and inevitable choice since by now we have both conditions and needs for expanding the space activities.
Under such a circumstance the state made the decision to launch the lunar probe immediately, in the hope of gaining first-hand data in a fast, efficient and economical way so as to accumulate experience and create conditions for deeper probes to follow.
The work we are doing is another innovation at a new starting point, for in the past our space activities were all focused on the earth, but now the round-the-moon flight has raised the curtain for China's deep space probe.
A little step forward carries something further
The main aim of our lunar probe is to make an understanding of the moon-the nearest celestial body from us-from a scientific point of view and develop our space engineering technology.
As the program is unfolding step by step, we are going to master the technologies needed for rounding the moon flight, landing on its surface and cruising automatically there as well as collecting samples automatically and then returning to the earth. This is going to be realized by developing and launching probing satellites, soft landing probe, lunar rover, sample collector and returning devices. We will set up and improve a whole set of engineering system of lunar probe so as to lay a technical foundation for future deep space activities.
As the program advances, related technologies as space system integration, deep space communication, new type carrier rocket and launching will also forge ahead, and so the country will raise its overall quality in space technology and achieve progress by leaps and bounds. Meanwhile, space-related technologies will also offer an impetus to other hi-tech technologies in the fields of information, new energy resources, new materials and micro-mechanics and electronics. We will establish a mechanism to promote technological achievements scored in the lunar probe and corresponding engineering projects in order o push forward the hi-tech in the related fields, thereby serving the whole society with the sci-tech progress funded by the state.
Blazing a shortcut to deep space probe
The probe into the unknown world is a permanent theme of human activities. The results achieved may not be put into an immediate use, but they are of lasting value. When the former Soviet Union launched the first manmade satellite, our forerunners wouldn't be able to foresee such a close tie between our life and space as we do today.
China is a nation boasting of a long tradition in exploration and innovation, while the lunar probe program serves just a practical and convenient way leading to deep space exploration. Relying on our excellent space team and years of successful experience, and by sticking to the principle of being "serious and earnest, attentive and careful, stable, reliable and perfectly safe", we are sure to complete tasks in three stages of "orbiting", "landing" and "returning", thereby laying a solid technological foundation for future probes and making contribution to the nation as well as to the whole mankind.
Though late yet a higher start
(By Ouyang Ziyuan, chief scientist on lunar applied science)
An abortive launch
By 1994 China had started its manned space program. At that time we planned to develop from Long March 2E rocket into a 2F rocket, but scientists had different opinions on what to launch by such a rocket. Some proposed to launch a lunar probe satellite using our limited funds, and worked out a simple exploration plan. But the plan aborted at last due to lack of a complete program plan and a long-term, in-depth scientific exploration of its objectives. Moreover, the national economy has just picked up and the space foundation was quite fragile. At that time we could only expect a simple flight around the moon, thus and could only do a limited contribution to the progress of national science and technology.
We are deeply enlightened from this experience. Formulating a development plan and scientific objective means to combine properly the scientific plan with technological ability. A good plan turns out a moon in the water without technological ability, while technological ability having no support of a scientific plan will never yield any quality result.
We've got a keen feeling that since we set out late we must carry it out from a higher level. We must keep up with international practices and consider our national conditions as well. We must seek for a sustainable development while making breakthrough in some key fields.
Starting from 0.5g of lunar sample
American announced its plan for "returning to the moon" this year, a plan which could be traced back to 1994 when exploration and re-landing objectives were put forward. At the same period the world saw a second-round of lunar probe waves after the Cold War, with Europe, Japan, India, Ukraine, Germany and Russia all putting out their exploration plans.
In fact, China began to conduct its primary studies on the moon as early as in 1978 when Mr. Zbigniew Brzezinski, then National Security Assistant to the US President, presented the Chinese government with one gram of lunar sample. Relevant researches were then done with 0.5g of that and lunar aerolite and by some other ways. Deeper studies followed after 1994, with more solid results achieved.
Off from 1999, the Commission of Science Technology and Industry for National Defense organized related departments for discussions over scientific objectives for lunar exploration. The Chinese Academy of Science approved them in 2001 with the corresponding research kicked off. Beginning from 2000, the Commission organized engineers and scientists to work out a technological plan, which was completed two years later and formally approved by the state in January 2004.
From the earth to the moon
(By Luan Enjie, director of China National Space Administration, vice-director of Commission of Science Technology and Industry for National Defense)
Space activities go deeper
A thorough review of the history of space sci-tech and activities both at home and abroad shows that space activities are mainly in the three areas -- the launch of manmade earth satellites, manned space flight and deep space probe. After accomplishing the first two it's a proper time for China to start its deep space probe beginning from lunar exploration.
Internationally the "return to the moon" project is still at a fledgling stage, and it's just the right time for China to catch up and join the world in its forefront.
Three steps for unmanned lunar exploration
Considering our sci-tech level, overall national strength and the national strategic development as a whole, China will focus on unmanned lunar probe in 2020 and the period to come and by three stages we men orbiting the moon, soft landing and cruising on its surface, sample collecting and returning to the earth.
As the first step, the main points of orbiting the moon include 3D lunar image analysis, distribution of useful elements, depth of lunar soil and space environment between the moon and the earth. The core of the project is to go from the earth to the moon. We will develop and launch lunar probe satellites by making full use of the existing maturing space technology and achieve breakthroughs in technologies as for earth-moon flight, long-distance control and communication, orbiting the moon, lunar remote control and analysis, so as to set up a primary exploration system of our own.
China's first lunar probe is expected to be launched by 2007, and work for the second and third stages are under discussions as part of the nation's medium-and-long-term development plan.