07 October 2007

I have been reading recently about SELENE - SELenological and ENgineering Explorer - a Japanese probe that was sent to the moon on the 14th September. SELENE and its payload of around 13 scientific instruments successfully reached Lunar orbit on the 3rd of October. It was launched from the the remote island Tanegashima Space Center.

Its mission is a year long project to map and study the lunar surface. It is in orbit at around 100km from the moon, and will begin its mapping studies towards the latter half of December. The mission has been a long time in the making, with the original launch intended for 2003.

For those who are wandering, selenological means lunar astronomy. The alternative name, “Kaguya” was named after a mythical princess of the moon, while “Selene” is a Greek Goddess of the moon

It is pleasing that the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency - JAXA have been met with success on a lunar exploration, and will hopefully have similar stories with other space related research including manned missions, probes to Mars and other planets in the solar system. Since China and India are also planning probes and manned missions of their own, the heat is on for a new space race. China has already stated in intends to launch a lunar probe before the end of the year, and India have plans for a launch of its Chandrayaan-1 in April.

It is apt that all of this has come around at the 50th anniversary of the Sputnik satellite, which kicked off the original space race between soviet Russia and the US. I cannot help feeling disappointed that politicians have dragged their heels so long that we are still only taking such light and costly baby steps 50 years later. Hopefully a new race will herald falling costs and lower the barrier to enter space exploration, space commercialisation, space tourism and even space colonisation.

This will hopefully be enough of a challenge to get the American and European space agencies moving - as they seem to have stagnated a little. If the recent announcements by American opposition politicians are anything to go by, then the US will enter a new phase of scientific and technological advancement too. Now all that is left is for Europe to get moving too.