Chinese Craft Whacks the Moon

The Chinese people are often stereotyped as being inscrutable, meaning "difficult to fathom or understand." And that about sums up my reaction to yesterday's news that the flight controllers at the Chinese National Space Administration intentionally sent the Chang'e 1 orbiter crashing into the Moon.

Chinese lunar explorer
The design of China's Chang'e 1 spacecraft, which orbited the Moon from November 5, 2007, until March 1, 2009 , was based on an existing communications satellite.
China National Space Agency
According to this report from the Xinhua news agency, ground zero was 1.50° south, 52.36° east. That's a nondescript tract of Mare Fecunditatis about 90 miles (145 km) from the crater Messier.

The spacecraft, which carried eight experiments, rocketed toward the Moon on October 24, 2007, and had been in lunar orbit for 16 months. And it was beefy, weighing in at more than 2 tons. That's comparable to the mass of a Centaur rocket that NASA's hopes to drill into one of the lunar poles later this year, along with the LCROSS spacecraft. Chang'e 1's impact undoubtedly made a sizable splash that should have been observable from Earth.

So here's what I don't understand:

(1) The end came at 8:13 Universal Time, which is 4:13 p.m. in Beijing's time zone. That means the Moon was up, but sunset was still about two hours away — not ideal conditions for lunar observing.

(2) The near-side impact site was in daylight, yet the crash would have been closer to the terminator, or even in shadow, just a couple days ago. So why pick March 1st and not February 27th?

(3) NASA officials are lining up an army of telescopes to try to record the LCROSS finale, now scheduled for early September or thereabouts. Wouldn't it have made sense for Chinese scientists to alert their Western colleagues of Chang'e 1's impending crash? At the very least, it would have been a useful test exercise.

Maybe I'll get answers to some of these questions in three weeks, when I head to Houston for the annual Lunar and Planetary Science Conference. A contingent from the Chang'e 1 project will be there to present results from the mission.

10 thoughts on “Chinese Craft Whacks the Moon

  1. Gene Dees

    One thing we need to remember when dealing the Chinese government … it is still a Communist dictatorship and they tend to keep things a secret. Nor do they always come forward with the reasons why they do things. They have recently made it known that they intend to go to the Moon and mine it … and when they do, they are not likely to share any of it nor will they likely share much information with the rest of the world.

  2. Embarrassed Humanoid

    Why have we begun our influence beyond our own planet by delivering junk to previously pristine moons, planets, asteroids, and comets?

    Are we no smarter than to design one way vehicles that stain the solar system?

    Once again it seems that man claims a right and privelage to trash the universe as unfortunate but necessary collateral damage from our glorious search for “the answers”.

    Short version from those observing us – a species with no respect not worth the trouble…

  3. Nathaniel Sailor

    I agree with comment #2. The comment about the chinese goverment. Let the chinese goverment be bull-headed!!! They will later relize that their secerts will get them in more trouble than they want!!! The chinese goverment better start given their citizens their rights or the U.S. may have overpower them to make the country better. Don’t forget what the Chinese goverment did in the 2008 Olympic games. THEY LIED ABOUT SOME OF THEIR ATHELES AGES!!!!!

  4. Nathaniel Sailor

    I agree with comment #2. The comment about the chinese goverment. Let the chinese goverment be bull-headed!!! They will later relize that their secerts will get them in more trouble than they want!!! The chinese goverment better start given their citizens their rights or the U.S. may have overpower them to make the country better. Don’t forget what the Chinese goverment did in the 2008 Olympic games. THEY LIED ABOUT SOME OF THEIR ATHELES AGES!!!!!

  5. George

    I have to agree with comment #2. The chinese still likes to keep secrets and to me the moon crash is no secret. It would have been nice to know ahead of time so it could have been observed with a good date and time.

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