New race to the moon and future of our planet

When it comes to climate, the lunar race needs to move as fast as possible for an earthly remedy

Published : 12 Aug 2023 07:00 PM

A new race to the moon is underway. India’s Chandrayaan-3 spacecraft has arrived in lunar orbit, marking New Delhi’s latest attempt at lunar exploration.

If successful, the mission will make India only the fourth country in the world to achieve a lunar landing, joining the US, China and Russia. The Indian lunar landing is due to take place on Aug. 23, about the same time that Russia’s Luna-25 is expected to land in the same area of the moon’s south pole.

In the 20th century, the space race between the US and the Soviet Union sparked a contest in technological competition and know-how based on national security. In the early 21st century, many countries, especially the US, China, India, and Russia, are now racing into space exploration as more serious issues such as climate change and recovery from the 2020-2022 pandemic require boosting human potential in space.

The war in Europe and its trajectory are highly likely to affect the race to the moon. The countries taking part now are wide and diverse, but the four key nations promote their own new ideological components that make the two-sided Cold War moon competition seem tame. Nevertheless, cooperation is going to have to be in vogue in 2030 given current climate requirements.

A new race to the moon is gathering pace because of lunar economics and the rapidity of climate change. Getting to the moon now is more important than ever to ease strains on Earth’s climate zones and ecosystems. 

It is a process that needs to be hot-wired and quickened. Climate change is occurring more rapidly, while shifts in energy use toward renewable strategies are too slow. Therefore efforts on Earth need to speed up, and getting off Earth as fast as possible and to the moon is part of a mandatory global requirement; 2030 is not a premium objective, but it will have to do.

All countries involved in lunar missions are targeting the moon’s south pole. India’s landing site is not too far from where Russia’s Luna-25 is targeted to land. Why? The south pole has been identified as a possible future location for a human outpost and the poles are the new frontiers for lunar exploration missions. Past missions, such as NASA’s Apollo and Surveyor or the Soviet Luna, landed near the equator, no more than 40 degrees latitude. The terrain near the equator is generally flatter than the rugged moonscape of the south polar region. The lunar lander will have to navigate its way past high mountains and deep craters to reach its landing site.The polar regions have been observed by spacecraft such as ESA’s SMART-1, India’s Chandrayaan and Japan’s Kaguya. 

Getting to the moon now is more important

 than ever to ease strains on Earth’s climate 

zones and ecosystems. It is a process that 

needs to be hot-wired and quickened

Part of the necessity of focusing on the south pole is increased sunlight, during “summer months,” but also atmospherics. Lunar scientists are looking at the complex interaction of illumination, plasma, radiation, and possibly water, found at the moon’s south pole. Scientifically, the south pole area provides a laboratory that provides insight into fundamental processes on airless bodies, such as the moon, Mercury and asteroids. That type of research on airless bodies of rock is important for future lunar and space economies.

China is also launching manned lunar missions. The China Manned Space Agency said its lunar effort will take place by 2030. China’s plan is to use two launch vehicles to send a surface lander and manned spacecraft into lunar orbit. Beijing’s mission, in effect, is timed to match the Artemis program, even if the US program is delayed.

While on the moon China will be collecting samples and carrying out experiments for their own lunar base at the moon’s south pole. Chinese researchers are developing innovative ways to approach moon research and analysis. Beijing has plans for an International Lunar Research Station that comprises three parts: a lunar orbiter, a moon base, and mobile rovers. The Chinese base, where Russia may partner, is meant to compete against the Artemis lunar base but not until the mid-2030s.

Russia’s space actions signal that Moscow’s long-range plans involving space need to be considered as part of the country’s neo-Soviet trajectory. 

Meanwhile, the US is more or less on track with its Artemis moon program. The program partners with five major agencies — the European Space Agency, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, the Canadian Space Agency, the Israel Space Agency, and the Australian Space Agency. Last week NASA and the Canadian Space Agency named the four astronauts who will explore the moon’s south pole on Artemis II, the first crewed mission on NASA’s path to establishing a long-term presence on the moon for science and exploration through Artemis in 2025.

Years later, NASA may build several moon bases for its upcoming Artemis missions, instead of the one Artemis base camp advertised when the space agency first revealed its plans for colonizing the moon. Subsequent missions will work toward building a permanent human colony on the moon that will serve as a stepping stone for human exploration of Mars, as well as other regions of the solar system.

Then there is Russia, which is aiming for an Aug. 23 moon landing. A Soyuz rocket for the launch of the Luna-25 lander is now at the launchpad for what will be Russia’s first lunar mission since 1976. The timing in terms of terrestrial politics is remarkable. The new Russian station will for the first time provide a soft landing in the circumpolar region with difficult terrain. Russia’s space actions signal that Moscow’s long-range plans involving space need to be considered as part of the country’s neo-Soviet trajectory.

Overall, a new space race is on. Ultimately, putting humans on the moon is going to be competitive. Again, such efforts raise questions about legalities over mineral rights on the lunar surface. However, when it comes to climate, the lunar race needs to move as fast as possible for an earthly remedy.

Dr. Theodore Karasik is a senior adviser to Gulf State Analytics in Washington. 

Source: Arab News