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China Moon NASA Space Science

China's Nuclear Rover Will Sample the Moon 134

Posted by timothy
from the space-cheese-is-worth-it dept.
HansonMB writes "After launching on one of the nation's Long March rockets and a three-day transit, Chang'E 3 will reach the Moon and enter into a 62 mile orbit. Once settled, the 2,645 pound lander will separate from the roughly 8,200 pound spacecraft and descend into a highly elliptical orbit 62 by 9.5 miles above the surface." Russia wants a taste, too, and plans a moon-sampling mission set for 2015.
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China's Nuclear Rover Will Sample the Moon

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  • Why send humans when you can just send robots.
    • by Tablizer (95088) on Thursday January 17, 2013 @05:16PM (#42620371) Homepage Journal

      They tend not to open the pod bay door when you need it most

    • by timeOday (582209)
      I'm increasingly having trouble remembering why it seemed like a space mission would be so much cooler with a person onboard. Would the Hubble be so much better with a guy in it? Would the Curiosity Mars rover? Just because "somebody" gets to have an experience doesn't mean I do, and offhand I can't think of any moon science that was done by people and could not now be done by a robot. Even hitting golf balls.
      • I'm increasingly having trouble remembering why it seemed like a space mission would be so much cooler with a person onboard.

        Because everyone was overly optimistic about the non-influence of stellar and galactic radiation on the human body and about the way how living in cramped conditions with the same group of people for two years risking death every day tends to keep your psyche shipshape.

        • living in cramped conditions with the same group of people for two years risking death every day

          Living in cramped conditions with the same group of people for lengthy periods of time risking death, that also roughly describes Columbus's early voyages. The full duration of the first voyage was seven months. Not that far off from estimates for a Mars voyage.

          • Living in cramped conditions with the same group of people for lengthy periods of time risking death, that also roughly describes Columbus's early voyages. The full duration of the first voyage was seven months. Not that far off from estimates for a Mars voyage.

            Personally, I'd go with Magellan for this analogy. With desert islands. With no natives to help you.

          • by cusco (717999)
            The voyages of Columbus and Magellan cost their countries a larger proportion of their GNP than the entire Apollo program cost the US.
            • by Noughmad (1044096)

              The voyages of Columbus and Magellan cost their countries a larger proportion of their GNP than the entire Apollo program cost the US.

              I would really, really like a citation for that. I simply have no idea what the costs were for those voyages.

      • When you have a person there, you don't spend days looking at a photo, trying to determine if something is a pebble or a "flower".
        • by murdocj (543661)

          You do understand that the "flower" is about a tenth of an inch wide, right? So if someone was on Mars the only way they would be finding it would be to take hi-res pictures of rocks and look at them. Pretty much the same thing Curiosity is doing.

          • by tsotha (720379)
            Not only that, they'd be wearing a pressure suit. It would feel like remote control even if it wasn't.
      • by AK Marc (707885)
        If Apollo 13 didn't have people on board to fix the issue after the O2 tank failure, they would never have made it home. Of course, if they didn't send people, they wouldn't have needed the O2, or needed to return. So there is that.
        • If Apollo 13 didn't have people on board to fix the issue after the O2 tank failure, they would never have made it home. Of course, if they didn't send people, they wouldn't have needed the O2, or needed to return. So there is that.

          Also, they didn't actually fix anything since if they had *fixed* the problem, they would have been able to complete the mission. They would have needed a much larger toolbox to do any useful repair and they'd still miss the O2 after the repair.

          • by AK Marc (707885)
            They "fixed" the problems caused by the rupture, but didn't fix the problem in a manner to have sufficient resources to complete the mission.
      • I'm increasingly having trouble remembering why it seemed like a space mission would be so much cooler with a person onboard

        I would think this should be more obvious, but it's "cooler" for the people onboard. Do you think it would have been a whole lot cooler if the Spanish had just sent robots to the New World?

        Humans are going to colonize space, and it's not for your personal entertainment, but because people with a spirit of exploration want to see what's out there and want to set foot on and colonize

        • by timeOday (582209)
          I think the mileage that government space programs have gotten out of entertainment value for the home audience is huge, regardless of its purported minimal role. In fact I think that, plus technology from or for (unmanned) defense applications, just about covers it.

          I wish the analogy between crossing the Atlantic Ocean vs. traveling 12 light years to Tau Ceti were better than it is. I really don't think the technologies currently in use for space travel are even steps in the right direction towards tra

        • by tsotha (720379)

          Humans are going to colonize space, and it's not for your personal entertainment, but because people with a spirit of exploration want to see what's out there and want to set foot on and colonize new worlds.

          Great. They can do it with their own money then.

          The early settlers didn't migrate to the New World for the purposes of entertaining those back home.

          No, for the most part they went there to get rich. The lumber alone on a plot of almost-free land was worth a fortune in the old world. But there'

          • Great. They can do it with their own money then.

            The Mars One project is intended to be funded by private money, so you sound a bit ignorant about what's happening in the field.

            • by tsotha (720379)
              If you think anyone is ever going to come up with enough private money to send people to Mars you have no right to imply anyone else is ignorant. Ever.
              • Look, I know it's popular with kids today to be all cynical about space with "ooh, space, never gonna happen", but the sad reality is that when you look at the facts, you are so way off it's ridiculous ... cynicism is no substitute for reason. Your homework for today: Do some research into the relative costs that would be involved with such a trip, and then compare it the amount of money sloshing around out there and getting spent on many other things. Your ignorance is totally f-cking astounding. Spoiler:
                • by cusco (717999)
                  the amount of money sloshing around out there and getting spent on many other things.

                  Last year's Pentagon budget was larger than the cost of the entire program to put humans on the moon. Let's see, advance science and technology, or improve our methods of slaughter? Which one is going to benefit the country, the species and the world more? Or do we give priority to the profit margins of our congresscritters' biggest donors? Decisions, decisions . . .
                • by tsotha (720379)

                  Look, I know it's popular with kids today to be all cynical about space with "ooh, space, never gonna happen

                  I'm probably older than you. My cynicism is born of experience.

                  The Mars One project current estimate is $6 billion

                  This is a really good indication these people don't have the first clue about what they're doing.

      • Just because "somebody" gets to have an experience doesn't mean I do

        If you want to experience this, why not apply as a volunteer for the Mars One project [mars-one.com]?

        • by timeOday (582209)
          It's not about whether it's me vs. one some other guy. My point is that if we spend several billion dollars to send somebody to Mars, 99.9999% of the population will still be sitting on earth, looking at pictures of Mars exactly like the ones they're already looking at (or not bothering to look at). I just don't see what it would change.
      • by cusco (717999)
        The astronauts on the last Apollo mission covered more territory with the Lunar Rover than all the Mars rovers combined have covered in all the years that they've been there. An astronaut can dig more than four inches into the soil. An astronaut can climb on top of a rock that a rover can't even approach. An astronaut can improvise an experiment from scraps and cleaning fluids. An astronaut can look down and recognize an unusual rock that a rover would not see from its ground-level camera. I can go on
    • by c0lo (1497653) on Thursday January 17, 2013 @05:53PM (#42620713)

      Nah... US will return to the moon in 2015. Just after NASA builds a vehicle to replace the retired space shuttles, in 2014; it will be called "Crew Exploration Vehicle". And, once on the Moon, the Americans will start building a permanent base there, as an avant-post for manned missions to Mars.

      Nice re-reading science-fiction classics, especially George W. Bush [slashdot.org].

      On the other hand, I can't deplore enough the change in the mind-set. From

      We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, etc

      to why send humans when you can just send robots... in only 50 years.

      • Nah... US will return to the moon in 2015. Just after NASA builds a vehicle to replace the retired space shuttles, in 2014;

        The shuttles were never going to be any help in going to the moon. Far too heavy to do anything more than low earth orbit. Thats why the ISS is in such a low orbit and has problems with atmospheric drag; because the Americans couldn't build a reusable vehicle that didn't have wings and a tail plane. Because the military insisted that it could land in the USA in case it was carrying a classified payload. So the shuttle was a cripple. And a deathtrap.

      • by dabadab (126782)

        Well, actually, there's not much of a change in the mindset: in the heydays of the space race, almost exactly 50 years ago, on January 15, 1973 the Lunkhod 2 landed on Moon - it was the second "robot" (it was more of an RC car) that Russia sent to the Moon (the first one landed in 1970).
        So the "why send humans when you can just send robots" is not really a new question.

    • by khallow (566160) on Thursday January 17, 2013 @06:41PM (#42621089)

      Why send humans when you can just send robots.

      Why send robots when you just not send anything at all? At some point, you are assuming that there's something valuable to do in space. Else just not doing anything is the correct choice.

      As it turns out both robots and humans have their place in space activities. Robots are the obvious winners for virtually all extreme exploration, such as sending something out for the first time (the unmanned probes that were part of the Apollo program and used to scout possible sites and try out landing technology), to an environment that simply is not survivable (for example, a one way trip into the atmospheres of Jupiter or Venus), or lasts a ridiculous length of time (the Voyager missions).

      Robots are also good for easily automated tasks such as imaging and communications. And as the software improves, one can expect more such tasks to be automated.

      Humans are better for missions that have a lot of complexity and on site decision making. The Apollo program contains a good example of human activity that couldn't be readily duplicated by an affordable amount of robotics on Mars. Overall human time on the Moon was something like three or four weeks of human time (including the fact that there were two people on each of the half dozen missions that made it to the Moon).

      For example, consider the scientific missions to Mars over the past forty years. Each of the last three lunar missions duplicated the basic feats of any of the rovers on Mars, but in a couple of days rather than a number of years. And a powerful component of the Apollo program was the sample return, which still generates considerable academic activity today.

      People tend to forget that a manned mission could generate as much scientific knowledge in a few weeks as the unmanned landers and rovers have over the past last forty years. And that's a good use of humanity's real strength, the Earthside infrastructure that has had to make do with a remarkably thin gruel for four decades.

      There's also the goal of eventual colonization of space. One has to use humans at some point in order to further that goal beyond a rudimentary level.

    • Why send humans when you can just send robots

      This just reveals a lack of imagination. Yes we've been delayed so far in getting to space, but robots are going to pave the way for an exponential explosion of humans in space. We'll soon be able to do things like send teams of robots in advance to do automated construction of infrastructure (eg. build housing, build automated greenhouses, build solar mini-stations, and this is just with technology that we'll see within the next 15 to 30 years), that will make

    • by myowntrueself (607117) on Thursday January 17, 2013 @07:50PM (#42621595)

      Why send humans when you can just send robots.

      Why go yourself when you can send someone else?
      Why ride a horse when you can get someone else to ride a horse for you?
      Why make love to a real pretty girl when you can get someone else to do it for you?
      Why not just kill yourself now and get your lack of involvement in life over with?
      We do things ourselves, go places ourselves, because that is part of what makes us human, we participate in life the universe and everything.

      • by Bomazi (1875554)

        It is false dichotomy. The choice is not between say, sending a robot or a human to Mars.

        It is between spending 20 billions on human spaceflight and having footsteps on Mars and some samples, or spending the same on robots and having Martian samples, plus a geophysical network on Mars, plus a Neptune orbiter, plus in situ studies of Titan and Europa.

        Robots are merely an extension of our senses. The use of tools, from the bow and arrow to the Mars rover is what made our species successful. Clinging to the ou

        • It is false dichotomy. The choice is not between say, sending a robot or a human to Mars.

          It is between spending 20 billions on human spaceflight and having footsteps on Mars and some samples, or spending the same on robots and having Martian samples, plus a geophysical network on Mars, plus a Neptune orbiter, plus in situ studies of Titan and Europa.

          Robots are merely an extension of our senses. The use of tools, from the bow and arrow to the Mars rover is what made our species successful. Clinging to the outdated notion that you have to do everything in person never was.

          Ok so build a robot to have sex for you. Its not a false dichotomy at all. It could save your life, what if she has HIV? It could save you money (on a paternity suit).

          Robots are no WAY an extension of our senses. Its not at all the same as a tool like a bow and arrow, although I'll give you theres a profound difference between the satisfaction of beating someones brains out with a club and a 1km+ headshot with a sniper rifle.

    • Robots will do the job as soon as one can look at something and say "Hey, that's odd..." and apply insight to determine what's worth a closer look, outside pre-programmed observational parameters.

    • Why fuck when you can just have a doctor impregnate your wife with a few tools?

      Or, for her, why fuck when you can just donate an egg for a test tube baby?

      Why attend classes if you can just send a robot to proxy for you?

      Why go on vacation, when plenty of photographers are willing to sell you images and sounds of Cancun?

      Why own a home, when you can just sleep in the subway, or under a bridge, and tape up some photos of nice homes instead?

      Why do you bother to browse the internet, when you can get some of the i

  • aha (Score:1, Interesting)

    by qwidjib0 (900833)
    >>> After launching on one of the nation's Long March rockets and a three-day transit, Chang'E 3 will reach the Moon and enter into a 62 mile orbit. ...or it will make a fantastic explosion someplace in China. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pq9iYyBYJMI [youtube.com]
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 17, 2013 @05:09PM (#42620303)

    It will have to take another one an hour later.

  • WTF Hoola Hoop? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Tablizer (95088) on Thursday January 17, 2013 @05:10PM (#42620313) Homepage Journal

    the 2,645 pound lander will separate from the roughly 8,200 pound spacecraft and descend into a highly elliptical orbit 62 by 9.5 miles above the surface

    Why are they landing a "lander" on an elliptical orbit instead of the surface of the moon? Did this come from the Siri Translator?

    • At the low point of the orbit, it will fire thrusters to slow it down and land.
    • by sconeu (64226)

      How did the Lunokhod rovers land?

      It sounds like the Chinese are planning on imitating the Apollo landing orbit profiles.

      IIRC, the CSM stayed in a 62 mile circular orbit, while the LM went into a 62x10 orbit. If everything was go, they'd do the landing burn at the 10 mile mark, otherwise, they'd return up to the CSM. The landing missions did the burn, Apollo 10 returned up to the CSM from the orbit.

  • A year or so ago I was perusing the made-in-china web site and found a page where you could buy a Long March missile booster and launching platform (included payload nacelle but no payload, bring your own fuel). The part I found most disconcerting was the little "add to basket" icon...

  • Pretty soon they'll be setting up mines and factories, it will become as smoggy as Beijing, and everyone will have to wear masks to go outside.

  • by TubeSteak (669689) on Thursday January 17, 2013 @05:29PM (#42620513) Journal

    The Chang'E 3 lander will rely on a plutonium-238 radioisotope thermoelectric generator, or RTG, for power. This is the same type of unit that's currently powering Curiosity's traverse across Mars. But unlike Curiosity, Chang'E 3 will only use its RTG to keep the spacecraft's systems humming during the two-week long lunar nights. Solar panels will allow the lander to take advantage of the free power during the two-week long lunar days.

    I thought that once you put together an RTG, its lifespan was limited only by the radiation source and the degradation of the thermocouples.

    So what's the purpose of not using the RTG all the time?
    Will that extend its life?

    • I wonder if the energy per pound is higher for a solar panel then for the RTG? If so it might make sense to have a high energy phase (solar and RTG) and a low energy phase (only RTG.) That would be my guess – anybody have a better idea?

    • Re:How do RTGs work? (Score:5, Informative)

      by nedlohs (1335013) on Thursday January 17, 2013 @05:44PM (#42620629)

      All I can guess is that it doesn't provide enough power, and they are either powering down some components during the night or charging batteries during the day?

      But I'm guessing without even reading the summary.

      • by nospam007 (722110) *

        "All I can guess is that it doesn't provide enough power, and they are either powering down some components during the night or charging batteries during the day?"

        You are aware that a moon 'day' lasts 14 earth days? You couldn't get any work done.

        PS. You can't land on the sun, not even at night.

        • by Soralin (2437154)

          It looks like that's what they're doing though in some capacity, basically running most of it during the day on solar power, and then just using a small RTG to keep it warm enough that it doesn't freeze to death during the night, and possibly keep communications and stuff like that running.

          Just because it's a machine doesn't necessarily mean that all of its components can survive -170C temperatures.

          And even Curiosity doesn't do work at night, it uses a smaller RTG than needed to power all it's components, a

        • by nedlohs (1335013)

          Obviously since it was in the quote I replied to. Length of the night only makes it more likely they are doing what I said - powering down for the night due to not having enough juice. Not that I've read the summary yet of course.

    • They don't always use thermocouples. Sometimes the energy capture is via Stirling generator: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stirling_radioisotope_generator [wikipedia.org]

    • by istartedi (132515)

      Lots of variables: mission profile, the mass of the RTG system, the mass of the panels, power requirements. What's most important? Keeping the weight down? Maybe something else. Let's say it's the weight though. Part of me imagines them setting up an equation involving the aforementioned variables and coming up with a solution that minimizes the weight.

      If you go solar only, you would need bigger panels and batteries to run the dark side of the mission. If you go RTG only, you'd need a bigger RTG. No

    • They're using a very small RTG that doesn't put out a lot of juice, so it is more suited to being a backup than a main power source.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    "The Chang'E 3 lander will rely on a plutonium-238 radioisotope thermoelectric generator, or RTG, for power."
    Taken from the 5th paragraph of the article.

    This is NOT powered by a full blown nuclear reactor. Would it really hurt to make this clear in the post?

    • RTG, not fission.

      õ_Õ

      This is NOT powered by a full blown nuclear reactor...

      Correct. This is most likely why the article didn't claim that it is.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Patrick McGoohan will eventually escape.

  • wake me when there is a moon base, or something that hasn't been done already.
  • This is the kind sausage measuring contest that societies do at their peak.

    Like the US, they will spend trill/bill/millions to take pictures of rocks in a vacuum then spend decades reminiscing about the good old days when they were launching rockets to the moon and beyond.

    • by cusco (717999)
      If you believe China is at its peak already I think you're going to be surprised by the generation that is just coming of age now.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Russions put "rovers" on the moon in the 60s and 70s. No one noticed cus we put men on the moon just before that.

  • Once settled, the 2,645 pound lander will...descend into a highly elliptical orbit 62 by 9.5 miles above the surface.

    I assume it does something after that...

    And are the Chinese going to be using miles and pounds while they mission-control this?

    • Whoops. Meant to add, if you're going to copy-and-paste to create your summary, at least include something about the event teased in the headline - i.e., the sampling rover.
  • Let the Rare-Moon metals land-rush begin....

  • This may be why the communists are making the trip - 'Between 1969 and 1972, Apollo astronauts brought just under 842 pounds of rocks and regolith back from the Moon. In 1985, engineers at the University of Wisconsin discovered significant amounts of Helium-3 in the lunar soil. Helium-3 is a stable isotope of helium — the gas we use to fill party balloons with — and is notable because it’s missing a neutron, an important property that means we can used it in nuclear fusion reactions to p
  • Read the article, recognize it as important but... Yeah, first thing I thought of when the headline said sample was eat. Leading me to think of some Chinese mad scientist that's send out sattelites across the solar system to eat the very Heavens. The he will be The True Celestial! BWAHAHAHA
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Could the text be in metric ? I find it annoying to go and convert x pounds of things in meters every time an article is added.

  • Once settled, the 2,645 pound lander will separate from the roughly 8,200 pound spacecraft and descend into a highly elliptical orbit 62 by 9.5 miles above the surface

    2,645 GBP (4,225.29 USD)? That's bloody cheap, it used to cost millions.

  • Finally, the faked moon landings will be shown for what they are and we can find out what kind of cheese the moon is really made of.

  • The Russians launched a series of probes in the 70s (Luna 16, Luna 20 and Luna 24) that went to the moon and brought back samples.

    Although I guess the novel thing this time is that it combines the Luna sample return missions with the Lunokhod rovers.

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