This month, one of the most significant events of 2013 took place: China achieved the first soft-landing on the moon for 37 years. That’s right, for almost four decades no other country has considered putting anything so much as a wheel on Earth’s nearest neighbour. But that all changed when China’s Chang’e Number 3 rocket and its Jade Rabbit rover landed in the moon’s Bay of Rainbows.
According to the New Scientist, China’s landing could herald a ‘modern moon rush’, as countries rush to explore the moon, examine what minerals are available, and also look for important clues about the moon’s development, the development of Earth, and even of life itself.
Such lunar explorations have been made more feasible by the discovery in 2009 of millions, if not billions, of tonnes of frozen water on the moon. This allows for the establishment of moonbases, since astronauts could potentially use the water as both drink and fuel. This would open up the possibility of using the moon as a starting point for trips further afield, to Mars maybe. And who made the important discovery of water on the moon? Russia? Europe?
Actually, it was India, another eastern nation venturing into space. India’s Chandrayaan-1 mission, the nation’s first-ever visit to the moon, found water concentrated at the moon’s poles. India also deservedly made headlines in November this year for launching a probe to Mars, which – if all goes to plan – is due to orbit the Red Planet next year and look for signs of methane (a tell-tale sign of life), while also attaining a greater understanding of the Martian atmosphere.
Both India and China are intent on boldly going where no man has gone for a long time. But their ambitions have been greeted, not with applause, but with sneers and criticism from many in the West. On the US Daily Show, host Jon Stewart mocked China for not realising that it was no longer 1957. ‘China soft-landing an unmanned rover now is like those people on crutches or in bear suits who finish the New York City marathon hours after everyone thinks the race is over’, he mocked.