China and the “dark side”

I have a new post up at Air and Space discussing a possible Chinese lander/rover mission to the far side of the Moon — what it could tell us and why it’s significant.  As always, your thoughtful comments are solicited.

This entry was posted in Lunar exploration, Lunar Science, space policy, Space transportation. Bookmark the permalink.

19 Responses to China and the “dark side”

  1. Vladislaw says:

    Enjoyed the article….

    Dr. Spudis wrote:
    “Yet again, China is showing foresight and leadership in space by attempting missions and activities designed to create cislunar presence and dominance.”

    If you changed the word “China” with the U.S. and changed the word “cislunar” with Mars, couldn’t the same be said? The U.S. is focused on Mars and China is focused on luna?

    Could you explain something about how the Outer Space Treaty works as it relates to hardware that lands on Luna? If a country drops ANY hardware on the moon isn’t the immediate area then become “protected”? In effect doesn’t it create something like an international heritage site?

    It seems like ever country wants to get scraps of hardware on Luna so they have a backdoor to territory control through a national park for hardware?

    • Paul Spudis says:

      If you changed the word “China” with the U.S. and changed the word “cislunar” with Mars, couldn’t the same be said? The U.S. is focused on Mars and China is focused on luna?

      The difference is that Mars has no strategic significance but cislunar space does — that’s the zone in which all of our satellite assets are located.

    • Joe says:

      There is another difference.

      – The Chinese are actually doing something concerning the Moon.
      – We are only talking about Mars.

      All of the robotics activity aimed at Mars was approved independent of any Humans to Mars aspirations and the administration is trying to cut funding for continuing some of them.

      The only significant activity in the HSF area that could conceivably support a Mars mission is SLS/Orion, that was forced on the administration by congress and the administration is attempting to reduce funding for those programs again this year.

    • The easiest and most sustainable way to routinely get humans to Mars is by exploiting lunar ice resources. Even NASA realizes this!

      And cis-lunar space– will always– be the economic giant of the solar system from the deployment of satellites, space tourism, and someday O’Neill type of colonies at EML4 and EML5.


  2. The ability of humans and their machines to travel to the lunar surface and to exploit the Moon’s valuable resources: water, oxygen, iron, and thorium is the key to economically and strategically dominating cis-lunar space. The exploitation of lunar resources are also the cheapest and easiest way to conveniently and sustainably transport crewed interplanetary vessels to the orbits of Mars, Venus, ESL4 and ESL5 and the NEO asteroids.

    China, Russia, Europe, Japan, India, US Congressional advocates, and NASA already know this!

    The only obstacles that remain are the current administration’s hostility towards returning to the lunar surface and the myth that NASA’s approximately $8 billion a year human spaceflight related budget is not enough funding to return humans to the surface of the Moon.

    $8 billion a year is plenty of funding– without the need for any foreign resources– for NASA to set up a permanent water and propellant producing human outpost of the lunar surface during the 2020s and also on the surface of Mars during the 2030s if lunar resources are utilized. Plenty!

    But neither will happen if all NASA’s beyond LEO budgetis less than $5 billion a year because of its continued funding of the $3 billion a year ISS program. If Congress wants to continue the ISS and get humans to the Moon and Mars then its going to have to raise the human spaceflight related budget from $8 billion a year to more than $11 billion a year (a tiny amount of money considering that the US government currently spends about $4 trillion a year of tax payer money).

    Otherwise, the ISS and ISS funding will have to finally come to an end by 2020 in order for the US to have a serious beyond LEO human space program.

    Ironically, the Russians may force and end to the ISS by 2020 anyway!


  3. Joe says:

    Saw I news article on this and was hoping you would write and article on it.

    If they establish what will amount to a lunar telecommunications satellite to control a rover on the far side of the moon, it will be quite an accomplishment.

  4. Michael Wright says:

    “…other nations are asserting their superpower status by planning and flying missions to and around the Moon…”

    This comment should address strategic importance of policy makers.

    It seems to me reason why everyone talks about Mars (except you and Dennis Wingo) is that a manned Mars mission is always 20 years away. I’m old enough to remember in 1960s we will eventually land on Mars in 1980s. In 1980s, we will land on Mars in 2000s. Now in 2010s, we will land Mars in 2030s.

    Nobody (from NASA to Musk) talks about the Moon because if they did then contracts and money to build hardware will have to start now such as a lander, transfer stages, spacesuits, etc. But nobody wants to spend that much plus all the development and testing which includes having to deal with mistakes from fatigue cracks in metal to endless problems in control system software.

    Mars is always a good goal because R&D can continue on plus more spiffy computer graphics but all done with minimal costs. Just defer the big decision and large budget items to some other smucks 20 years into the future.

    • Paul Spudis says:

      Absolutely correct, but in addition to needing the money now (as opposed to a decade from now), making Mars the “horizon goal” (as the recent NRC report puts it, apparently without irony) also means that no one is accountable for the space program’s continuing lack of performance.

    • Joe says:

      Fits in well with my point above (May 26, 2015 at 4:05 pm) that – We are only talking about Mars.

      If you keep the mission date at least two decades in the future not only do you not have to fund development of HSF flight hardware; you do not even have to fund robotic precursors. All you need is the occasional presentation (with great graphics, of course).

  5. billgamesh says:

    There are presently several showstoppers for any real space program- the first being the inexcusable SLS core production rate at Michoud. That is the dead giveaway concerning how dirty the games are that are being played between NASA’s political appointees and the SLS supporters in congress and the senate. As long as Human Space Flight-Beyond Earth Orbit is so incredibly underfunded compared to Low Earth Orbit operations, and military space expenditures, and keeps being a political football tossed back and forth between administrations- there is little hope.

    Dr. Spudis proposed what I have come to believe is the ideal solution- make Human Space Flight-Beyond Earth Orbit one of those military expenditures by creating a new agency (like the Department of Homeland Security was). Certain people can do nothing but scream at the top of their lungs there is no money, no payloads, and no reason to spend tax dollars on NASA and it should all be handed over to Musk. There are reasons and the Chinese are well aware of them.

    A deep space force would operate Beyond Earth Orbit and use nuclear energy and carry nuclear weapons. These spaceships would use water-as-cosmic-ray-shielding derived from lunar ice. They would replace the strategic nuclear forces on Earth- the bombers, missiles, and submarines. And they would be used to detect and defect any asteroid or comet impact threat. Exploration with some scientists always on board would also be part of their mandate.

    As I have commented before, the first step would be to replace the present GEO satellite junkyard with human-crewed von Braun wheels assembled in lunar orbit. By capturing a percentage of the over 100 billion dollar profits of this industry, and also the savings accrued by transferring legacy nuclear weapon system funding into space, such a force becomes affordable. The certain number of space stations in this case becoming spaceships by the addition of nuclear propulsion systems.

    Using SLS wet workshops and robot landers to shuttle ice into lunar orbit from the surface, such a plan would immediately make the U.S. dominant in all space matters. Just as the pathetically low output of SLS cores from Michoud is a tell-all, I recently saw a simple graph detailing the depths of the gravity wells of the Earth and Moon and this is also a stark display of just how poorly informed and mislead the public is. The two most useless and dead end destinations to spend public treasure on- LEO and Mars.

    Figure 10, page 23

    • Joe says:

      The Gravity Well Map is indeed instructive.

      Now it there was just a way to get people who do not already understand the situation to look at it.

      • billgamesh says:

        I wish I was good with infographics, or knew someone who could cook up graphs like that. Many of the “facts” the public takes for granted concerning space exploration and space travel are not facts at all when compared to reality- Low Earth Orbit being the most ridiculous example of all.

        Talk about LEO as not really deserving to be classified as “space” and some people get pretty upset. Compared to the great beyond LEO is a thin slice of nothing. It is a comparatively tiny domain that allows extended human visits because it is protected from the radiation and solar events of actual outer space. Calling it space exploration (what’s to explore?) and space travel (there has to be a destination to travel somewhere) have been obsolete classifications since 1968 when LEO was left far behind.

        Humankind retreated back into LEO after leaving because the money was cut off to continue a real space program. For the last 40 years the public has been fooled into thinking the space age did not end and this farce continues. Likewise Mars is being marketed as the “horizon goal” because it is useful as a device to keep the public distracted from what is in plain view in the sky most evenings- the Moon.

  6. LocalFluff says:

    Does the Far Side have any strategic importance? It is harder to access and no satellites are in line of sight from there, also resources should not be better than on the Near Side. Could there be some value in hiding there? I suppose this could still become a polar mission, out of sight from Earth and thus the Far Side effectively.

    • Paul Spudis says:

      Does the Far Side have any strategic importance?

      Not per se. The ability to access the far side and conduct routine operations there is simply part of the much larger cislunar capability that China is developing, one that does have strategic significance.

      • Warren Platts says:

        Paul, what do you think of the Asphaug and Jutzi hypothesis that the Dark Side highlands could be largely a leftover carapace resulting from a huge, slow-moving impactor? If it’s true, the Dark Side highlands could possibly be enriched in metals. Then there’s that huge magnetic anomaly over there. Could that possibly be the remains of the metallic core of a large impactor?

        • Paul Spudis says:


          Two different ideas there. The Asphaug idea is that a very large impact early in lunar history “plastered” the far side with excess crust, making it thicker and accounting for the CM-CF offset and tidal rotation lock. Not really any geochemical evidence to support such an idea.

          The “magnetic anomaly” on the far side is centered in the northern part of the South Pole-Aitken basin, near the crater Van de Graaf. The idea (by a guy named Mark Wieczorek and others) is that the impactor that created the SPA basin was metallic and partly buried itself beneath the floor of the basin. This asteroidal metal is the magnetic carrier for the anomaly. Sort of a Deus Ex Machina idea — impacts typically don’t work that way. But one can imagine some extreme conditions that might permit it.

          More likely, it is related to the opposite hemisphere Imbrium basin, either antipodal converging ejecta (magnetized by impact shock) or seismic fracturing of the crust, creating pathways for igneous intrusions resulting in a dike swarm that cooled below the Curie point in a formerly existing global magnetic field.

          Lots of ideas, but no real answers. Take your pick.

  7. Warren Platts says:

    There is actually a grain of truth to the appellation “Dark Side”. Of course, the other side of the Moon goes through a two-week period of sunlight every month. But at night, it’s really dark dark, as there’s no Earth-light. Whereas on the Near Side at midnight, the “Full Earth” provides 23 times more light than does the Full Moon as seen by us Earthlings.


  8. LocalFluff says:

    What is the science quality of the Chinese lunar missions? Do they have efficient instruments and do they publish data and papers? Is their mission to the Far Side likely to reveal deep secrets about the formation of the Moon, or is it just a technology demonstration without real science goals?

    • Paul Spudis says:

      They do have state-of-the-art instruments and publish their results in the open literature (more or less; a lot of the raw, mission data are not released and all we have are their published results). They are a bit behind the curve in terms of scientific acumen and imagination, but are trying. For this far side mission, they actually are soliciting foreign instruments, i.e., if you provide the instrument, they will fly it to the Moon in exchange for data sharing. American scientists are prohibited by law from participating in any of this, but many of our European colleagues are salivating over the chance.

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