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Interview: Why Does China Start Lunar Exploration Program?
The Commission of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense (China National Aerospace Administration) recently announced: China will start the feasibility studies on the lunar exploration program and tackling of key technological problems this year. As China is a developing country, its financial resources are not rich, then why does it plan to launch the lunar exploration project, and what's its significance?

Luan Enjie, vice-minister of the Commission of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense and director of the China National Aerospace Administration (CNAA), who is a member of the 10th CPPCC National Committee, now attending the "two sessions", accepted an exclusive interview.

Correspondent: At the end of the 90s of the last century, the second lunar exploration upsurge was set off in the world, could you tell me the basic situation regarding the lunar exploration?

Luan Enjie: At the end of the 50s of the last century, the United States and the former Soviet Union carried out space competition centered on lunar exploration, setting off the first lunar exploration upsurge. From 1958 to the end of August 1976, the United States and the former Soviet Union successfully launched 45 lunar probes. In July 1969, the American Apollo spaceship realized the first human moon landing, making epoch-making achievement in lunar exploration. The two countries obtained priceless lunar examples, data and experiences through lunar probing, greatly heightening human understanding of the moon, earth and solar systems, propelling and bringing about a series of innovations and development in basic science, science and technology, forming a large batch of high-tech industrial groups and producing remarkable social-economic efficiency. On the basis of lunar exploration, the United States and the former Soviet Union had again launched the activities of deep-space exploration of Mars, Venus, Saturn and other planets since 1977. In the late 1990s, many leading space countries or organizations of the world worked out ambitious lunar probing plans, once again warming up the lunar exploration activity. In 1995, the United States set forth its brand-new and complete lunar exploration program oriented toward the 21st century. In 1994, the European Space Bureau worked out a detailed plan for returning to the moon and establishing a lunar base, it will launch the first lunar satellite and gradually set up a lunar scientific research base in 2003. Japan has drafted a systematic lunar exploration program under which the country will launch the "Moon-A" in 2003 and the "god of moon" in 2004 and set up a lunar observation station in 2015. India has also formulated its lunar exploration program, planning to launch a lunar probe before or after 2006.

Correspondent: Compared with the first lunar exploration upsurge, what are the new characteristics of the world's second lunar probing upsurge?

Luan Enjie: Under the current lunar exploration plans of various countries in the world, they have clearer targets, larger scale and involve the participation of more countries for returning to the moon and setting up lunar bases. The main reasons for this are as follows:

Lunar exploration is the necessity of the development of science and technology, and the natural outcome of the development of space exploration. The lunar exploration project of the 1960s proves that space exploration is a project of high-tech and high rate of economic output, the genuine value it can turn out is much higher than the project itself. Lunar exploration can become the incubator of science and technology and can propel technological innovation and revolution related to the national economy.

After decades of development and through the digestion and assimilation of the early lunar exploration engineering technology, the various space countries have set up complete, advanced, economical and practical space technological industries and development systems. Principal space technologies such as manned aircraft and air transportation system have been highly mature, economically feasible, the technology for the construction of lunar bases has approached practicality.

Returning to the moon and building permanent bases is a vitally important first step in human development of outer space resources and expansion of living space. Through this project, human beings are enabled to learn how to "leave the earth homeland", establish permanent study stations of the type of Antarctic Pole, develop products and industries in the space outside the earth, and set up self-sufficient extraterrestrial homeland. Growing space application and space scientific demand, such as multi-space micro gravity science research conditions, the large-scale production of special biological products, have to be conducted and completed in "an outer space laboratory" as colossal as the moon. The prospect for the development and utilization of the lunar potential mineral and energy resources provide resource reserves for the sustainable development of human society, this factor is the most important driving force for return to the moon.

Correspondent: : What's the significance of implementation of the lunar probing project to the development of China's science, technology and economy?

Luan Ennjie: The launching of man-made earth satellite, manned spaceship and deep-space exploration are the three major fields of space activities of mankind. Returning to the moon, developing lunar resources and establishing lunar bases have become the inevitable trend and competitive hot spots in world space activities. After China's development of artificial earth satellite and implementation of manned aircraft, keeping pace with the times and timely carrying out deep-space exploration based mainly on lunar exploration is the inevitable choice of China's aerospace activities, as well as the necessary choice for the sustainable development of China's space activities, and for having something to do and accomplish and to make innovation. Carrying out lunar exploration work is an important move in the first step taken by China in deep-space exploration. Realization of lunar exploration will be a zero breakthrough in China's deep-space exploration. The moon has become the focal point wherein future aerospace powers contend for strategic resources. The moon contains various special resources for humanity to develop and use, the mineral and energy resources unique to the moon are important supplement and reserve to lunar resources, which will generate far-reaching influence on the sustainable development of human society. The helium-3 resource unique to lunar soil is a clean, efficient, safe and cheap new-type nuclear fusion fuel for mankind's future long-term use, and it will help change the energy structure of human society. Each gram of gold costs US$11, whereas each gram of helium-3 costs US$400. With the beginning of the 21st century, various countries around the world have shown stronger interest in lunar resources. Conducting lunar exploration will help enhance China's understanding of the moon and its ability to develop and utilize lunar resources. In addition, carrying out lunar exploration helps raise China's aerospace technological level and promote the development of space science and space application. Lunar exploration will become a third milestone in the development of China's space science and space technology. Lunar exploration represents a leap in aerospace technology and a new point of scientific and technology innovation, it helps promote implementation of the principle for rejuvenating the country through science and education, it will promote and enhance an all-round development of high and new technology, particularly the development of aerospace, information, photo-electricity technology and space application, and propel the innovation and development of space science, astronomy, life science and material science and other basic sciences. At present when the world program of returning to the moon has not yet been in full swing, we must seize the opportunity and start China's lunar exploration project as quickly as possible, to ensure that China has a niche in the international lunar exploration activity.

Correspondent: : Are conditions available for carrying out lunar exploration on the basis of China's existing level of space science and technology?

Luan Enjie: After half a century efforts, China has established a complete supporting space scientific and technological industry system capable of developing and producing various types of aircraft and carrier rockets, has possessed aircraft launching sites capable of sending to orbit various types of satellites and manned spaceships and aerospace monitoring networks and has possessed a variety of satellite application and development systems and space scientific research systems, etc. These conditions have laid necessary material foundations for China's launch of the lunar exploration project. In light of China's national condition, the basic principles for China's launch of the lunar exploration project include: overall planning, integration of short- and long-range, step-by-step implementation and sustained development. Based on the comprehensive analysis of the success already gained in world lunar exploration, as well as various countries' strategic goals and implementing plans for "returning to the moon", and considering China's scientific and technological level, comprehensive national strength and overall development strategy, the project will follow the principle of "achieving faster, better and more economical results", and make full use of the existing mature technology. The lunar exploration satellite will use the Dongfanghong 3 satellite platform, various subsystems will also basically use other satellite mature technology. The use of the Long-March 3A carrier rocket can satisfy the requirement for the launch of lunar exploration satellite. China's existing S wave band space monitoring network, under the coordination of VLBI astronomical surveying network can complete the first-phase lunar surveying and monitoring task. The Chinese Academy of Sciences has initially possessed the ability of receiving, handling and interpreting the lunar exploratory data.

Correspondent: What are the characteristics of the program for the first phase project of China's lunar exploration compared with the early lunar exploration of the United States and the former Soviet Union?

Luan Enjie: The scientific goal for the first phase project of China's lunar exploration is: obtaining the lunar surface three-dimensional image; analyzing the content of lunar surface useful elements and the characteristics of the distribution of materials; surveying the thickness of lunar soil; and surveying the ground-moon spatial environment. This program has skipped over the early hard landing, nearby leap and other steps of the United States and the former Soviet Union, and directly stepped onto the lunar flying exploratory stage; the lunar orbit is an extreme full moon orbit, making it possible to conduct surveying of all surfaces of the moon; the selection of scientific targets, the all-round survey of the thickness of lunar soil and the amount of helium-3 resources have never been carried out in other countries and survey of lunar surface three-dimensional image and useful elements was only conducted in part of lunar surface in the past.

(People's Daily March 4, 2003)

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