From Jade to Junk
Written by Dr Klaus L.E. Kaiser
China’s moon rover called Yutu or Jade Rabbit may have turned into junk. Launched on the Moon’s surface on December 15, 2013, it was the pride and joy of China’s fledgling space program. Yutu was the first rover to be landing there since 1973. However, the excitement did not last long; a few days ago the Jade Rabbit suffered a malfunction and has been in a semi-dormant state since. As of yesterday, it is tweeting new messages to its millions of followers but may not be quite its former self. In any event, its design life span is three months only.
Mankind first set foot on the Moon in 1969 when the American astronaut Neil Armstrong stepping off the lunar lander Eagle proudly said “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” No doubt, the mission to the Moon was a grand achievement for the U.S. and mankind in general.
The international competition in space exploration got going in 1957 when the Soviet Union announced the successful launch of Sputnik, the first satellite to circumnavigate the Earth high above its surface. A few years later Yuri Gagarin became the first cosmonaut to circle the earth in a Soviet space craft.
That’s when U.S. President John F. Kennedy threw down the gauntlet and the space race was on. He challenged the country to send a man to the Moon and have him safely return again to Earth in the few years before the end of the decade. Against considerable odds the challenge was successfully met in the summer of 1969.
Since then, only a couple of additional missions were sent to bring back a few samples of moon rocks now displayed as curiosities in various museums around the world. The curiosity of such samples only pertains to their origin, the actual rocks and minerals they contain were all known from Earth prior to their retrieval from the Moon. What other benefits accrued from the missions to the Moon?
Like many of the bodies in space the Moon lacks an atmosphere. It is a barren rock pockmarked by many craters, large and small, from meteor impacts over a long time. Without any atmosphere there is no life on such bodies. Moreover, water and a readily available source of carbon, the most basic building block of all organisms on Earth are lacking completely on the Moon. No wonder that Armstrong’s co-astronaut described the lunar landscape as “magnificent desolation.”
An interesting coincidence is that the Yutu seems to have suffered from problems similar to those of the U.S. rover Curiosit currently exploring the surface of planet Mars. Both rovers sustained damage to their wheels while moving across the rock-strewn landscapes. This is reminiscent of the common tire (actually inner tube) punctures that beset travel by car throughout the first half of last century on this planet. Of course, the rovers’ “tires” are not made of rubber but a lightweight alloy with protruding ridges. However, the exact cause of Yutu’s problems are not known or disseminated at this time.
The Benefits are on Earth
Given the success of the manned missions to the Moon with the last one in 1972, now more than 40 years ago, you might ask why none since?
The answer is not difficult to fathom: The Moon and other heavenly bodies are forbidding places, made up mostly of dust and rocks of which the Earth already has plenty. So far, man’s space exploration efforts have acquired little in terms of physical samples with novel materials or composition. The advancements were all here on Earth and not in anything found “out there.”
Therefore, despite China’s “Jade” going to turn into junk soon, their mission to the Moon was a technological success demonstrating China’s advancing expertise in many fields.
Dr. Klaus L.E. Kaiser is author of CONVENIENT MYTHS, the green revolution – perceptions, politics, and facts
Dr. Kaiser can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org