One small Chang’e for China, one large Change for the World
October 25, 2007
China launched its first Moon orbiter yesterday, and it’s now moving towards a stable orbit, as is its Japanese counterpart, with the Indians to follow in early 2008.
The Chang’e-1, named after the Chinese goddess who flew to the Moon, cost surprisingly little, looks like a great deal for the Chinese, and will surely mark an interesting period of space exploration and exploitation.
Xinhua reports that,
China’s milestone lunar orbiter project only costs 1 to 1.4 billion yuan (about 133 to 187 million U.S. dollars), the same amount as the money used to construct 2 km of subway in Beijing, said Ouyang Ziyuan, chief scientist of the lunar exploration program.
Obviously it’s difficult to immediately grasp how this compares to costs for a western project, as there are so many relative economic factors to take into account, or against the figures for Japan and India below. But it does indicate that the Chinese know how to present the costs relative to other projects they undertake – it’s certainly good publicity.
The boost to China’s profile can’t do it any harm, especially as they lead up to the Olympics 2008. I wouldn’t be surprised to find some lunar theming in the opening and closing ceremonies… aspirational, reaching for the moon and stars stuff.
The Japanese also chose, by popular vote, a myth with a girl, Kaguya, flying to the Moon. So, their SELENE project (55 billion yen, 474 million U.S. dollars) should have a degree of popular support and involvement, which sadly hasn’t been much in evidence in the west for a while.
With all this activity it would be unsurprising to see a response from the space veterans, the USA or Russia, trying to reclaim some of the glories for their own efforts, whether through moon projects of their own or those further afield in the solar system. It really isn’t likely that either of these countries will relinquish the opportunity to exploit lunar mineral resources, even if it’s not yet economic to extract them.