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Nasa and China collaborate on Moon mission

Updated January 19, 2019

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Nasa navigates a strict legal framework aimed at preventing technology transfer to China.— Reuters/file
Nasa navigates a strict legal framework aimed at preventing technology transfer to China.— Reuters/file

WASHINGTON: The space agencies of the United States and China are in touch and coordinating efforts on Moon exploration, Nasa said on Friday as it navigates a strict legal framework aimed at preventing technology transfer to China.

“With the required approval from Congress, Nasa has been in discussions with China to explore the possibility of observing a signature of the landing plume of their lunar lander, Chang’e 4, using our @NASAMoon spacecraft’s instrument,” Nasa’s associate administrator for the science mission directorate, Thomas Zurbuchen, said on Twitter.

Zurbuchen’s tweet confirmed a similar statement made on Monday by the deputy chief commander of China Lunar Exploration Program, Wu Yanhua.

Nasa shared information from a US satellite while China told the Americans about the latitude, longitude and time of the landing “in a timely manner,” he said.

The hope was that Nasa’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) could observe the historic touchdown of the Chinese lander on Jan 3. Nasa provided the planned orbit path of LRO to China, but it turned out the spacecraft was not in the right place at the right time.

“For a number of reasons, Nasa was not able to phase LRO’s orbit to be at the optimal location during the landing, however Nasa was still interested in possibly detecting the plume well after the landing,” the agency said in a statement.

“Science gathered about how lunar dust is ejected upwards during a spacecraft’s landing could inform future missions and how they arrive on the lunar surface.” Such observations could help astronauts prepare for future missions to the Moon.

Nasa’s lunar orbiter will pass over the Chang’e 4 landing site on Jan 31 and will snap pictures, as it did for the Chang’e 3 in 2013.

The agency said significant findings resulting from the cooperation would be shared with the global research community in February at a United Nations space gathering in Austria.

Published in Dawn, January 19th, 2019