Editorial:First-ever Samples from The Moon's Far Side

【明報專訊】China's Chang'e-6 lunar probe has made history by returning with samples from the far side of the moon. Exploration of the moon's far side is extremely difficult; the success of Chang'e-6 therefore marks a breakthrough in China's space technology and an important step towards establishing the International Lunar Research Station (ILRS) in the future.

The US has described China's lunar mission as a ''military programme'' intended to claim the moon as its territory. However, it is actually the US-led Artemis lunar programme that is paving the way for seizing lunar resources all the while. The US's refusal to join hands with China and its insistence on prioritising American hegemonic interests will only extend geopolitical confrontation from the Earth to space and the moon.

Chang'e-6 took off on 3 May this year, and soft-landed in early June on the moon's far side, where it collected about two kilogrammes of soil. The return capsule of the Chang'e-6 lunar probe landed smoothly in Inner Mongolia yesterday afternoon (25 June), marking the complete success of the 53-day mission. Mankind has collected lunar samples many times in the past, but all of them were from the moon's near side. Not only was the successful retrieval of samples from the moon's far side by Chang'e-6 a more difficult feat, but the samples were also more precious.

Since the moon's rotation and revolution cycles are the same, it always faces Earth with one side, and the other side that faces away is called the far side. Scientists have long wanted to understand the difference between the near side and the far side of the moon. The location where Chang'e-6 soft-landed, the South Pole-Aitken Basin, was the moon's most ancient and deepest basin as well as the largest known crater in the Solar System thus far. Soil retrieved from this site can help scientists peer into the history of the moon's evolution and the unique aspects of soil composition and minerals on the moon's far side.

Given its keen competition with China, the US can hardly sit on its hands while China makes rapid progress in lunar exploration and breakthroughs in space technology. Just a short time ago, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson openly claimed that China's space programme is a military mission intended to seize the moon and prohibit other countries from landing, which is totally different from the US's Artemis programme. The comment drew a strong rebuke from China.

In a bid to hold back China's development of space technology, the US refused to include China in the US-led International Space Station programme. Over a decade ago, the US Congress even enacted a law that bars NASA from official collaboration with China without special approval. By contrast, China has stressed that the ILRS programme it initiates would be ''open to any interested countries or international partners''.

The ILRS has been promoted as focusing on scientific research and is expected to be similar in nature to the research stations run by various countries in Antarctica now. The Artemis programme has suggested integrating resources from the US government and private enterprises to build a lunar station in 2028 that can sustain a human presence. The public's concern is that the programme is not only for the sake of scientific research, but also for promoting commercial exploitation of lunar resources.

In fact, the Artemis programme is paving the way for the US government and private enterprises to seize lunar resources earlier. It is in essence allowing the US to unilaterally set the rules of the game to approve commercial exploitation of the moon. It will be a tragedy for the human race should the moon truly become an extension of geopolitical confrontation.

明報社評 2024.06.26:月背採樣返回開先河 中美探月競爭白熱化





中美競爭激烈,中國探月進展神速、太空科技一再突破,美方當然不會無動於中。就在不久前,太空總署署長尼爾森才公開揚言中國的太空計劃屬於軍事目標,意欲「霸佔月球並禁止其他國家登陸」,與美國阿提米斯計劃(Artemis programme)探月截然不同,結果惹來中方強烈批評。




■/ Glossary 生字 /

hegemonic /ˌhedʒɪˈmɒnɪk/:showing control by one country, organisation, etc. over other countries, etc. within a particular group

basin /ˈbeɪsn/:a place where the earth's surface is lower than in other areas

rebuke /rɪˈbjuːk/:the act of speaking severely to sb because they have done sth wrong

上 / 下一篇新聞