August 22, 2019
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When we land on the moon again, it will be to stay

Madrid Desk, Jul 17 (efe-epa).- Fifty years ago Neil Armstrong became the first human to walk on the moon and no one has left their footprints on the rocky satellite since 1972, but when humans do return, it will be to stay.

Armstrong's lunar walk on 20 July 1969 as part of the Apollo 11 mission was the defining event of the 20th century, astronaut Ellen Ochoa, who was 11 at the time, told Efe.

“Fifty years after arriving, the idea would be to return to stay, in order to test new technologies and ways of behaving that would allow us to remain on the lunar surface or in its orbit,” Italian astronaut Franco Malerba said.

Transforming its surface so that we can build a community in space and develop technology is the endgame, he added.

A total of 24 astronauts have left the Earth’s low orbit to land on the moon as part of the groundbreaking Apollo program that took place between 21 December 1968 and 19 December 1972, and of these, only 12 men have left their footprints on the lunar surface.

But many assume that moonwalking is a rite of passage for astronauts worldwide.

“The moon represents the least or most obvious destination of exploration,” Pedro Duque, Spanish astronaut and current minister for science, innovation and universities, told Efe.

“Everyone asks us how we found it even though we may never have been on the moon because everyone assumes astronauts visit the moon as the first technical destination required in order to assess whether we can continue in space exploration,” Duque added.

FROM MEN TO MACHINES

But no one has set foot on the satellite since 1972 and the risky job has long since been delegated to sophisticated robots that rake the rocky land for samples.

“When I was 10, I was convinced that when I grew up I would become a cosmonaut who would travel to the moon and maybe Mars and Venus,” Russian cosmonaut Fyodor Yurchikin told Efe.

“Back then I would read a lot of science fiction and we didn’t think Venus’ atmosphere was that dense.

“In the 80s we thought that we would fly to the moon in the 90s and that by the early 21st century we would have built a lunar city.”

Time has passed and the moon has not seen any more human visitors, but that could soon change.

All five astronauts Efe interviewed agreed that the next phase in lunar exploration would involve setting up bases for research and exploration, much like what has happened in Antarctica.

“I think we will land on the moon again with four people," German astronaut Matthias Maurer told Efe.

“We will start by building a small house, I imagine it will be like the station in Antarctica today and that scientists will go there for research and will discover things we cannot even fathom today.

“So a similar evolution will occur on the moon step by step until one day we have a larger station and network that we call ‘Moon Village’.”

Artificial intelligence will play an important role in the development of a lunar station.

“Humans are not equipped to dig the surface of the moon, both Lunajod and Luna 16 proved their ability to sweep the rocky satellite's surface in order to take samples," said Yurchikin.

“We could send four bulldozer robots that could create a platform capable of supporting a vessel weighing many tons, that would clean the terrain and that could be used as engines or systems capable of receiving and sending signals and information."

URBAN PLANNING FOR THE MOON AND MARS

The European Space Agency already has plans for its first Moon Village which will not only allow for more in-depth exploration of the moon and the Earth but act as a springboard for outer space exploration, with Mars as its first objective.

“Mars is a very interesting planet because it is alive, at least this is how we label it because it has an atmosphere, a dynamic surface and underground water systems," Malerba said

"This all makes it particularly interesting from a research perspective.”

But reaching Mars poses huge challenges due to the distance.

Astronauts currently fly to the International Space Station, which floats some 400 kilometers above the Earth.

The moon is 400,000 km away, and Mars, depending on where it is in orbit, is some 4 billion km away.

“It is so far away that we cannot use current technology to fly to Mars directly," Maurer said. "We first need to go to the moon and develop the technology there in order to then fly to Mars."

For Yurchikin, “the moon is a celestial object that is sufficiently big so as to develop technologies that would allow humans to inhabit another planet.”

And as well as advancing further space travel, setting up a moon base will allow scientists to learn more about the Earth, particularly about the radical changes in climate that pose a threat to ecosystems and biodiversity.

The youngest rocks on the moon are basically the Earth's oldest rocks, according to Ochoa. "And they really give us insight into the early Earth which has really been obscured from us from all the processes like volcanoes and tectonic plates moving, none of that has happened on the moon so it's a really good early view into what Earth was like."

For Yurchikin, one of the key challenges humanity faces when looking to future explorations is setting frameworks that will safeguard the environment and safety.

Long gone are the days of launching rockets from barren deserts.

Security, the safeguarding of the environment and the safety of states must be prioritized when it comes to the commercialization of space, the Russian said.

As humanity now looks beyond the blue planet with the view to colonize other stellar objects, there is something all astronauts, despite their thirst for adventure, agree on: “The desire to return to Earth is always strong,” according to Malerba.

“People will travel to Mars and apple trees will blossom, as a Soviet song said, but Earth is our home," said Yurchikin.

“We leave home but we return,” he concluded. EFE-EPA

By Efe correspondents in Berlin, Rome, Madrid, Moscow and Washington, and Clea House at the Madrid Desk

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Collins says Armstrong was the best boss and spokesman for Moon mission

Cape Canaveral, USA, Jul 16 (efe-epa).- Astronaut Michael Collins, one of the three members of the first mission to the Moon, paid tribute to Neil Armstrong and described him as the best commander they could have had.

Collins spoke from the launch platform in Cape Canaveral, northeast of Florida, on Tuesday for the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission.

He described Armstrong, who died in 2012, as the smartest astronaut, a great engineer and the "perfect" choice to command the mission.

"He was very intelligent, he had an extremely wide background of knowledge, scientific knowledge, historical knowledge really probably more than scientific," he said during a televised interview by NASA.

The 88-year-old said he wanted to highlight Armstrong's gifts as a spokesman for him and their colleague Buzz Aldrin, who is now aged 89.

"He did a superlative job as a crew commander, no complaints there (...) he was a masterful speaker," Collins said of the first person to walk on the surface of the Moon.

"He was an introverted person in many ways, he didn’t wanna grab the microphone but if he found the microphone thrust in front of him he could use it with a wonderful advantage," he added.

The former astronaut also praised the initiative of President John F. Kennedy in 1961 to send a man to the Moon before the end of the 1960s.

“I don’t wanna go back to the Moon I wanna go direct to Mars, I call it the JFK Mars Express,” he added.

He praised the role of women in the new space age, specifically in NASA’s Artemis program to colonize the Moon and Mars.

“Well I love the word Artemis the twin of Apollo, I think that’s a wonderful name and more important than the name is the wonderful concept I think that women can do anything that men can do in space, perhaps they can do it better,” he added.

Collins also answered a resounding "no" when asked if he had felt like the loneliest man in space while his two companions walked the Moon.

He said he enjoyed a hot coffee and had 40 minutes of peace, tranquility and calm. EFE-EPA

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Toyota plans to send manned vehicle to the Moon

Tokyo, Jul 16 (efe-epa).- Toyota is planning to build a lunar rover that would allow Japanese astronauts to explore the surface of the Moon.

The Japanese carmaker and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency said on Tuesday that they have signed a three-year collaboration agreement for a lunar mission.

The rover will be designed, manufactured and tested as a prototype that can drive over the surface of the Earth’s satellite using fuel cell power.

It will be manned and pressurized, enabling astronauts to travel inside it without wearing space suits in a world-first.

Toyota said in a statement: "Jaxa intends to acquire data related to driving technologies in order to develop a manned, pressurized lunar rover.

"The rover will be used for missions to explore the moon's polar regions, with the aim both of investigating the possibility of using the moon's resources?such as frozen water?and of acquiring technologies that enable exploration of the surfaces of massive heavenly bodies."

Toyota and Jaxa first unveiled the joint research project in March.

They said that the pressurized rover will have a total lunar-surface cruising range of more than 10,000 km.

The technology development phase of the project will begin this year, with the final flight model of the prototype due to be completed in 2027.

Jaxa plans to send a rover to the Moon on an American rocket in 2029, amid growing international interest in lunar exploration.

Toyota said in a March statement: “International space exploration, aiming to achieve sustainable prosperity for all of humankind by expanding the domain of human activity and giving rise to intellectual properties, has its sights set on the Moon and Mars.

“To achieve the goals of such exploration, coordination between robotic missions, such as the recent successful touchdown by the asteroid probe Hayabusa2 on the asteroid Ryugu, and human missions, such as those involving humans using pressurized rovers to conduct activities on the moon, is essential.

“When it comes to challenging missions such as lunar or Martian exploration, various countries are competing in advancing their technologies, while also advancing their cooperative efforts.” EFE-EPA

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India suspends mission to Moon's unexplored South Pole

New Delhi, Jul 15 (efe-epa).- India on Monday suspended its unmanned mission to explore the Moon's South Pole due to what it said was a "technical problem."

The mission would have been New Delhi's second Moon mission, dubbed Chandrayaan-2, and had been slated to explore a part of Earth's satellite that had never before been closely examined.

"A technical snag was observed in launch vehicle system at 1 hour before the launch. As a measure of abundant precaution, #Chandrayaan2 launch has been called off for today," said the Indian Space Research Organization on its Twitter account on Monday.

The Twitter message was posted just 10 minutes before the launch of the space probe, scheduled for 2:51 am on July 15, from the Sriharikota base in the southeastern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh.

According to the Indian space agency, the problem was detected 56 minutes before launch, whereupon authorities decided to scrub the mission.

"Revised launch date will be announced later," said the ISRO without providing additional details.

The mission was to send a rover to the Moon, land and deploy it at the uncharted lunar South Pole - a giant leap with a relatively low-cost budget in its ambitious space program.

The mission includes a lunar orbiter and lander, along with the rover. The lander carries a camera, a seismometer and a thermal instrument. It had been expected to land on the moon between Sept. 6-7.

The Chandrayaan-2 mission included collecting samples from the Moon's unexplored South Pole, determining the mineral composition of the Earth's satellite and searching for water there.

The rover is designed to explore the lunar surface for about 14 days, traversing a distance of some 500 meters, although the probe will remain in lunar orbit for over a year.

If the mission ultimately comes off and is successful, India will join an elite club of nations - including the United States, Russia and China - who have landed a rover on the Moon's surface.

A senior fellow at the Institute for Defense Studies and Analyses, Ajay Lele, told EFE that the mission is one of the most complicated ever to be undertaken by India's space agency.

"This is really a test for India," Lele said, noting prior to the mission's cancellation that it that comes a "bit delayed."

The spacecraft has been made with home-grown technology, according to the space agency, and not with Russia's help, as initially expected.

India's first lunar mission, Chandrayaan-1, was conducted in 2008 and a follow-up mission was initially expected to be launched soon after that but has taken more than 10 years to come - almost - to fruition.

In 2013-14, India did put a satellite into orbit around Mars, the country's first interplanetary mission.

ISRO had a budget of some $1.32 billion in 2017-18 compared to NASA's $19.5 billion budget for 2019.

Despite its limited resources, ISRO has carved out a name for itself in the global space race with its Moon and Mars missions, as well as its communication satellites and remote sensing technologies, spurring many countries to choose the Indian space agency to launch their satellites.

The space agency in February launched a group of 104 satellites into space within 18 minutes, making the South Asian country a key player on the commercial map of space-based surveillance and communication.

The Chandrayaan-2 mission is part of a much wider program to make India a major global power for satellite launches, and the country plans to put astronauts into space by 2022 and build its own small space station.

Another delay in India’s prestigious lunar mission, disappointing but needed

By Sarwar Kashani

New Delhi, Jul 15 (efe-epa).- A technical glitch has led India to put on hold again the launch of its second Moon landing mission to look for signs of water near its uncharted South Pole – a prestigious space exploration program that has already suffered several delays.

The launch of the most ambitious space mission of India’s space agency was scheduled to take place at 2.51 am on Monday, but the countdown was frozen and a live media feed snapped about 56 minutes of action before the scheduled take off from Sriharikota island in southern India.

While the delay in the mission caused an obvious setback, an ISRO official told Efe that there were no major disappointments.

“It was done after a minor observation. You know this is the prestigious mission and in such space missions, it has to be 100 percent perfect to make it a success,” ISRO spokesperson Vivek Singh said.

“Even 99.99999 percent won’t do. We are glad that we detected the issue and were able to hold the launch minutes before the lift off.”

He said the issue was minor and it was being analyzed by top scientists.

“Hopefully, we should be able to come up with our analysis by tomorrow (Tuesday) and then we will fix the next launch date,” Singh told Efe over phone from Sriharikota, a barrier island off the Bay of Bengal coast in the southern Andhra Pradesh state.

Earlier, everything looked to be in place and set for the 3.8-tonne spacecraft, dubbed Chandrayaan-2, to take off on the 640-tonne (5,244 pound) Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle Mark III (GSLV Mk-III) – a humongous 14-storey-high rocket.

A link to the live streaming of what could have been a historic moment in India’s space ambitions was shared on social media for regular citizens to watch. The agency even tweeted that the filling of liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen in the cryogenic stage, or the last stage, for the rocket before it separates had been done.

But not long after the ISRO tweeted that the launch had been put on hold as “a measure of abundant precaution.”

The success of the mission is significant. India has been asserting itself as a global space power to be reckoned with and is planning to launch a manned space mission by 2022.

Besides, national pride runs high. Hindu right-wing Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, boasts of such technological advancements as a marker of India’s rising global power status.

Modi, in March this year, in the middle of the general elections that he won with a landslide majority, announced the successful test of the country’s first space weapon – a missile to shoot down enemy satellites in space.

Former ISRO chairman G. Madhavan Nair, one of the most popular names in India’s rocket technology, told Efe that the latest delay to Chandrayaan-2 was a “little disappointing” since everyone was waiting for the “historic moment.”

“But nothing to worry. It is a temporary setback. It was a blessing in disguise,” said Nair, a member of Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party.

Nair, who led the space agency for six years from September 2003, said landing on the moon is a complex mission.

He said the ISRO had made the right call to delay the launch because “no chances” could be taken with such missions.

Chandrayaan-2, if successful, will make India the fourth country in an elite club of nations to have made a surface landing on the moon – a feat achieved earlier by Russia, the United States and China.

The spacecraft has a lunar orbiter, a lander and a rover that is expected to spend two weeks analyzing the Moon’s surface.

This is India’s second lunar mission after Chandrayaan-1 in 2008. Chandrayaan-1 did not land on the lunar surface but found some of the earliest detailed evidence of water on the Moon with the help of radars.

Chandrayaan-2, the follow-up mission to Chandrayaan-1, has so far faced five known delays.

The first take off was scheduled in March last year. It was first delayed to April and then to October for more tests.

Two more delays happened as a result of a significant design revamp late last year and minor damages to its lander during testing in April 2019. EFE

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Moon landing anniversary: 12 astronauts have walked on its surface

Madrid, Jul 8 (efe-epa).- Since the Soviet Union launched the first Luna-1 probe in 1959, around 60 manned and unmanned missions have been sent to the Moon.

The first spacecraft to reach the vicinity of the Earth’s only natural satellite was launched on January 2, 1959 as part of the Soviet luna program.

Russia, the United States, Japan, China, the European Union, India and most recently Israel have also carried out missions to the Moon and twelve NASA astronauts have walked on its surface.

The Soviet Union was the first country that managed to achieve an orbit and American astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were the first set foot on the lunar surface with Apollo 11 in 1969.

They were not the only ones to reach the Moon, Apollo 11 was followed by another five missions each carrying three crew members.

In total there were 12 astronauts who walked on the surface and six who remained orbiting in a command module.

The last mission was Apollo 17 in 1972, with astronaut Gene Cernan the most recent person to set foot on the Moon.

Missions of the Apollo program since 1969:

- Apollo 11, launched July 16, 1969: Landed on the Moon four days after launch and on July 21 commander Neil Armstrong was the first person to walk on the moon and lunar module pilot Buzz Aldrin was the second, while command module pilot Michael Collins stayed in orbit. Armstrong and Aldrin used the Eagle lunar module to land on the surface.

- Apollo 12, launched on November 19, 1969: The mission's commander Charles "Pete" Conrad was the third man to walk on the Moon, followed by lunar module pilot Alan Bean, while command module pilot Richard Gordon remained in orbit.

- Apollo 13, launched on April 11, 1970: The crew had to abort the mission after an explosion in an oxygen tank. The three astronauts James Lovell, Fred Haise and John Swigert all returned safely to Earth.

- Apollo 14, launched on January 31, 1971: The crew consisted of commander Alan Shepard, the first NASA astronaut who traveled to space in 1961, lunar module pilot Edgar Mitchell and command module pilot Stuart Roosa.

- Apollo 15, launched on July 26,1971: Crew was composed of commander David Scott, lunar module pilot James Irwin and command module pilot Alfred Worden.

- Apollo 16, launched on April 16, 1972: The crew consisted of commander John Young, lunar module pilot Charles Duke and Thomas Mattingly as the pilot of the command module.

- Apollo 17, launched on December 7, 1972: The final mission of NASA’s lunar space program and the most recent time humans have walked on the surface of the Moon. It was the only nighttime release. Crew were commander Eugene Cernan, lunar module pilot Harrison Schmitt and Ronald Evans as the pilot of the command module that stayed orbiting the Moon. The mission saw the longest amount of time spent on the surface of three days. EFE-EPA

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Artemis to land on the Moon 50 years after twin brother Apollo

Madrid Desk, Jul 16 (efe-epa).- The US plans to send Artemis, who in Greek mythology is the twin sister of Apollo, on a new mission that aims to get the country back to the Moon half a century after Neil Armstrong walked on the satellite for the first time in history, with the main goal being to reach Mars in the future.

Artemis Moon Mission 2024 is part of a state policy of President Donald Trump’s Administration in the search to become the first country in the world to reach Mars.

Last March, Trump asked NASA to consider "all options and platforms available" to achieve those objectives, "including the industry, the government, and the entire US space industry."

Russia also plans its first manned flight to the Moon in 2030, 61 years after the North Americans beat the Soviets in the lunar race.

Roscosmos, the Russian space agency, has been working since 2009 on the construction of Federatsia (Federation), a new generation spacecraft with a capacity of six astronauts.

Its first flight to the Moon is scheduled for 2022, but it has already suffered several setbacks, and has shown many doubts over being able to reach its deadlines.

For the US, the first destination on the lunar surface would be the South Pole, where it is believed that there are millions of tons of ice that can be extracted and purified to obtain water, separate the oxygen to breathe and hydrogen to obtain rocket fuel, according to NASA.

Although some tests are already underway, the US would have to develop new equipment, such as the Space Launch System (SLS), the most powerful rocket ever developed.

Engineers would also have to finish building Orion, a space capsule with the capacity to transport four astronauts, offer them support and take them back to Earth.

In 2020, the year set by NASA for the development of the Artemis I mission, the Orion capsule will be launched on a test flight to the lunar orbit.

Two years later, the manned mission Artemis II will be carried out, which would involve orbiting the Moon 50 years after the first landing.

That same year, a small space station called Gateway will be sent up, working as a base between the Earth and the Moon.

In 2024, Gateway will have to be able to assist human beings, although it will not be fully completed until 2028.

Establishing a permanent presence on the Moon or embarking on long journeys, such as to Mars, will make it increasingly important to manufacture materials and products using the available local resources.

The Artemis program could cost between $20-30 billion over five years, according to NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine.

In addition to that, Trump has proposed to Congress by 2020 an additional allocation of 1.6 billion dollars to NASA's budget, which exceeds 21 billion. EFE-EPA

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