September 14th, 2007

Sy Liebergot

Lunacy

Japan successfully launched their lunar spacecraft into Earth orbit, with a clean liftoff and separation. They'll now see if they can get to the moon where they will attempt the ambitious task of orbiting with the primary craft and releasing two mini-satellites. This is their first attempt at a moon mission and it'll be huge if they succeed.

The craft is nicknamed Shaguya after a princess of legend. It's formally named SELENE, the SELenological and ENgineering Explorer. (For those of you used to seeing "lunar" for moon names, selene is the equivalent from the Greek side rather than Roman.)

This puts the heat on China, Japan's primary space rival at the moment. Their Chang'e mission should launch soon. It's also named after a legendary lady associated with the moon (plus a large rabbit and a cinammon tree, IIRC).

Will we see some more interest from the "old school" players? Russia's announced that they want to attempt a manned moon mission. The US is heading that direction, with the Orion project replacing the shuttle. NASA's doing research (on RATS -- that's Research And Technology Studies) and moving along.

And I can't leave out Google's $30M X-Prize offer for a privately-developed lunar rover. Realistically, this is merely a publicity stunt and not nearly enough money to garner serious attempts. Enterprises like Musk's Space-X have sunk an estimated $100M just developing a private orbital launch vehicle. (And they aren't quite there yet.)

So keep an eye on the latest race to the moon and hope that the US is in there somewhere. We've gained a lot from our space programs over the years. What new directions will this take us, other countries, and the world?

Edit: Fixed Greek/Roman ordering.