NASA and China collaborate on Moon exploration

Observations gathered from the collaboration could help future missions to the Moon, pictured over Los Angeles in January 2018
Observations gathered from the collaboration could help future missions to the Moon, pictured over Los Angeles in January 2018

The space agencies of the United States and China are coordinating efforts on Moon exploration, NASA said Friday, as it navigates a strict legal framework aimed at protecting national security and preventing technology transfer to China.

"With the required approval from Congress, NASA has been in discussions with China to explore the possibility of observing a signature of the landing plume of their lunar lander, Chang'e 4, using our @NASAMoon spacecraft's instrument," NASA's associate administrator for the science mission directorate, Thomas Zurbuchen, wrote on Twitter.

Zurbuchen's tweet confirmed a similar statement made Monday by the deputy chief commander of China Lunar Exploration Program, Wu Yanhua.

NASA shared information from a US satellite while China told the Americans about the latitude, longitude and time of the landing "in a timely manner," he said.

The hope was that NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) could observe the historic touchdown of the Chinese lander on January 3.

NASA provided the planned orbit path of LRO to China, but it turned out the spacecraft was not in the right place at the right time.

"For a number of reasons, NASA was not able to phase LRO's orbit to be at the optimal location during the landing, however NASA was still interested in possibly detecting the plume well after the landing," the agency said in a statement.

"Science gathered about how lunar dust is ejected upwards during a spacecraft's landing could inform future missions and how they arrive on the lunar surface."

Such observations could help astronauts prepare for future missions to the Moon.

NASA's lunar orbiter will pass over the Chang'e 4 landing site on January 31 and will snap pictures, as it did for the Chang'e 3 in 2013.

The agency said significant findings resulting from the cooperation would be shared with the global research community in February at a United Nations space gathering in Austria.

Risk of 'technology transfer'

Since 2011, the US Congress has barred NASA or the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy from using federal funds "to develop, design, plan, promulgate, implement or execute a bilateral policy, program, order, or contract of any kind to participate, collaborate, or coordinate bilaterally in any way with China or any Chinese-owned company."

Exceptions are possible, but NASA must convince Congress and the FBI that the activity would "pose no risk of resulting in the transfer of technology, data, or other information with national security or economic security implications to China or a Chinese-owned company."

The clause was inserted in a US spending bill after a wave of cyber-attacks that was traced to sources in China.

NASA said in its Friday statement that "all NASA data associated with this activity are publicly available," and that NASA's cooperation with China "is transparent, reciprocal and mutually beneficial."

Sino-US cooperation could extend beyond the current lunar project, according to Wu Weiren, chief designer of China's Lunar Exploration Program.

In an interview broadcast by state television CCTV on Sunday, he said NASA scientists had discussed a possible collaboration at an international conference "a few years ago," and that US scientists had asked to extend the lifespan of China's Queqiao relay satellite from three to five years to facilitate the planning of an American moon mission.

And why?

"Later, they said, feeling somewhat embarrassed, that they wanted to land on the far side of the moon too, so if we let (our relay satellite) operate longer they can also use it," he said.

The satellite in question aids in communications with a lander on the far side of the Moon.

NASA scientists had also discussed possibly placing a beacon on the Chang'e 4 probe, he added.

"If we put a beacon there, they also know where to land. I told them our Chang'e 4 can be used as a beacon for you in future," Wu said.

However the US restrictions "might be a much higher barrier to overcome" in ambitious cooperation projects such as a lunar research base that "might involve sharing of technological information," said Henry Hertzfeld, director of the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University.


Explore further

China says it exchanged data with NASA on far side of moon

© 2019 AFP

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Jan 19, 2019
I'm glad to see more acts of cooperation between space research & exploration projects.

These efforts are expensive in resources, manpower & funding. Since the hope is to benefit all Mankind? Cooperative endeavors share the burdens & the benefits produced.

Jan 20, 2019
NASA and China collaborate on Moon exploration

Should read "NASA and China conspire on Moon exploration". The Chinese are obviously aware, as is NASA, that the stars or planets such as Venus and Mars are not visible from the lunar surface at visible wavelengths. Surely if China wanted to embarrass the USA and its scientific community they would announce the fact. There is absolutely no scientific reason why they could not do some astrophotography even during the far side day time.

Jan 20, 2019
I believe that it is a huge mistake to put the Moon under any sort of stress such as mining and/or building structures upon its regolith. The Earth depends on the Moon for tidal action and other behaviours that benefit both the Earth and the Moon. I don't think that it's a good idea to treat the Moon as a piece of potential "real estate" and that any one nation can control. The good health of the Earth depends largely on the Moon remaining in its orbit.

Jan 21, 2019
"I don't think that it's a good idea to treat the Moon as a piece of potential "real estate" and that any one nation can control. The good health of the Earth depends largely on the Moon remaining in its orbiT."

Are you not aware that when Moshiach arrives the Moon will light up as bright as the Sun?

Jan 21, 2019
But seriously, yeah, I have been waiting for people to wake up and take to the Moon again.
There is a competitive and nationalistic interest in it.

I want to see someone put a cap on top to a lava tube!!!

Jan 21, 2019
Cooperation is good, and it is curious to see the different reasons US comes up with to avoid it with other states (which can include good reasons of course, but seems very contingent on political opionion).

The Chinese are obviously aware, as is NASA, that the stars or planets such as Venus and Mars are not visible from the lunar surface at visible wavelengths.


Since the subject is Moon, the question becomes when you put up a random claim without reference: are you a "lunatic"?

Dunno about the lunar days, but since Moon is tidally locked to Earth the night side will sweep the solar system once every lunar month, giving lots of time to see light sources including the somewhat more elusive Venus orbiting inwards us and being close to Sun at times.

And those planets are relatively bright light sources, we can easily see them during some day light here on Earth! QED, no other references needed.

Jan 21, 2019
"And those planets are relatively bright light sources, we can easily see them during some day light here on Earth! QED, no other references needed."

So should be easily visible from the Moon. I'll look forward to the images. And the Milky Way too?


Jan 21, 2019
It is with great amusement when self-proclaimed conservatives become so indignant that some other country is talking about being as wasteful as America.

That these fake conservatives actions are to be "liberally" profligate with Public Funding. Committing to amateur-egotist projects without any possibility of a profitable ROI.

Aside from the asteroids, the onlt potentially profitable worlds in this System? Are Mercury & Callisto.

Maybe Rhea if it is verified as being a captured interstellar remnant?

Utilizing Luna would serve only a few projects as important as they may turn out to be.

Mars is a pathetic trap of a gravity-well.

Jan 27, 2019
It is with great amusement when self-proclaimed conservatives become so indignant that some other country is talking about being as wasteful as America.

That these fake conservatives actions are to be "liberally" profligate with Public Funding. Committing to amateur-egotist projects without any possibility of a profitable ROI.
says rrwilliejoe

Thought that you would have packed all of your junk and moved to Venezuela by now where you could worship at your Socialist/Communist idol's feet. The USA doesn't need you, rrwilliejoe. Maduro awaits your slimy presence. Go to him.
Oh, and take Da Schneibo with you.

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