The Significance of Lunar Exploration
By Professor Hayang, Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering, Ulsan National University of Science and Technology
Throughout history, the moon has captivated human curiosity, inspiring legends and myths. In present times, its allure remains as strong as ever, as we compose poetry and serenade it with songs. Furthermore, numerous countries across the globe have embarked on missions to explore this celestial body.
The moon, with a radius of approximately 3500 km and a mass of 7.34 × 10^22 kg, boasts a synchronous rotation and orbital period. Due to this synchronous rotation, observers from Earth can only see one side of the moon.
Undoubtedly, the moon serves as the Earth’s indispensable satellite. Without its gravitational pull, tidal differences would cease to exist. The absence of tides would disrupt the marine ecosystem, affecting various species. Additionally, the moon acts as a shield, deflecting potentially harmful asteroids and planets. The moon bears evidence of this protective role in the form of crater marks. The impact of smaller celestial objects is mitigated as they burn up or disintegrate upon entering Earth’s atmosphere. It is undeniable that we owe a great debt of gratitude to the moon.
The first lunar probe, Luna 1, was launched by the Soviet Union (now Russia) on January 2, 1959. One of the defining moments in human history occurred in 1969 when the American spacecraft Apollo 11 landed on the moon, marking the first human footsteps on its surface. The footprints, preserved due to the moon’s lack of atmospheric weathering or erosion, are still visible to this day. The Apollo program concluded with Apollo 17, marking the end of manned lunar exploration by the United States.
In recent years, China successfully landed on the far side of the moon with Chang’e 4 on January 3, 2019. India’s Chandrayaan 3 will be the first to touch down on the moon’s south pole in 2023. These milestones reignite the global competition among nations to conquer the moon.
What drives this renewed interest in lunar exploration? There are several factors at play. Aside from the potential to harness the moon’s natural resources and utilize it as a launching pad for deep space exploration, considerations such as safeguarding against environmental disasters caused by global warming, the threat of nuclear war, and asteroid impacts have also spurred this renewed pursuit.
Recently, attention has turned towards the South Pole of the Moon. Its moderate daily temperature range sets it apart as an ideal location. While the moon experiences daily temperature variations of up to 300 degrees Celsius, the South Pole sees a mere 10-degree fluctuation. Moreover, the sun shines approximately 80% of the year at this location, making it an abundant source of solar energy. Additionally, an estimated 3.8 billion liters of water in the form of ice has been discovered at the Moon’s South Pole.
Besides water, the South Pole of the Moon holds valuable deposits of other resources. It is rich in rare elements like helium-3, essential for nuclear fusion, as well as rare earth elements indispensable for electronic devices such as smartphones. The South Pole alone possesses around 1 to 2 million tons of helium-3, a resource scarce on Earth but capable of providing energy for thousands of years. Helium-3 boasts superior energy efficiency compared to fossil fuels and has emerged as a promising fuel for future nuclear fusion. Producing energy from 1g of helium-3 is equivalent to burning around 40 tonnes of coal, and it is environmentally friendly, producing no carbon emissions or radioactive waste.
Thus far, successfully landing unmanned vehicles on the moon has been achieved by the United States, Russia, China, and India. Seven countries, including Korea, the United States, Russia, Japan, the European Union, China, and India, have launched lunar orbiters. In August 2022, Korea joined this select group by launching its test lunar orbiter, Danuri (KPLO, Korea Pathfinder Lunar Orbiter). Currently, Danuri has entered a circular orbit at an altitude of 100 km and is conducting its inspection tour.
According to the Moon Treaty of 1979, the moon’s natural resources were designated as humanity’s common heritage. The scientific community and the Korean government must foster substantial interest in lunar exploration beyond Danuri’s success. The ultimate goal is to send a lander to the moon’s south pole and far side.
▲ Professor Hayang, Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering, Ulsan National University of Science and Technology
The moon was a source of curiosity for our ancestors, just as they imagined a rabbit munching under a cassia tree. It is so familiar to us that we write poetry and sing songs while looking at the moon. Recently, many countries around the world have started to explore the moon.
The moon has a radius of about 3500 km, a mass of 7.34 × 1022 kg, and its rotation and orbital period are the same. Because it rotates synchronously in about 27.3 days, you can always see the same side (one side) when looking at Earth.
The moon is the only indispensable satellite that the Earth cannot live without. What would happen if there was no moon? Because there is no gravitational pull with the Earth, there are no tidal differences. As a result, there is no ebb and flow, which has a significant impact on the global marine ecosystem. It also allows you to avoid collisions with planets or meteorites coming from space. A number of crater marks remain on the back of the moon as evidence that it protects the Earth. Occasionally, very small planets or meteorites that fall directly on Earth do not have a significant impact as they burn up, disappear, or break up due to a collision with the atmosphere. For this reason, there is no doubt that the moon is something we are grateful for.
Mankind’s first lunar probe was Luna 1, launched on January 2, 1959 in the Soviet Union (currently Russia). After much trial and error, in 1969, the American spaceship Apollo 11 landed with a crew on the moon for the first time in human history, and Neil Armstrong was the first to set foot on the moon. Because there is no atmosphere on the moon, so there is no weathering or erosion, so the footprints are still clear on the moon and can still be seen on Earth. The US Apollo program ended after the last manned lunar exploration with Apollo 17.
Recently, China successfully landed on the far side of the moon (an area that is invisible from Earth and difficult to communicate with) (Chang’e 4 on January 3, 2019), and India’s Lunar Rover Chandrayaan 3 became the first in the world to land on the south pole of the moon (2023) From August 23, the competition among countries around the world to conquer the moon is heating up again.
So why is lunar exploration on the rise again? There can be various reasons, such as the possibility of protecting the moon’s natural resources and using it as a stopover for deep space exploration like Mars, as well as disasters due to changes in the Earth’s environment due to global warming , the destruction of Earth by nuclear war, and asteroid collisions.
Recently, the world’s attention has been focused on the South Pole of the Moon. The greatest advantage of the South Pole of the Moon is its moderate daily temperature range. Since there is no atmosphere on the moon, the daily temperature difference usually reaches 300 degrees, so all facilities must withstand extreme temperatures. However, the daily temperature difference at the South Pole of the Moon is only about 10 degrees, and the sun shines 80% of the year, making it possible to use solar energy resources. It is currently known that ‘3.8 billion liters’ of water exists in the form of ice at the Moon’s South Pole.
In addition, Antarctica has many valuable natural resources other than water. It is known to be rich in rare resources such as helium-3, the raw material of nuclear fusion, as well as rare earth elements necessary for the manufacture of electronic products such as smart phones, uranium, platinum, and mercury. In particular, it is estimated that there are around 1 to 2 million tons of helium-3, which is rare on Earth, on the surface of the South Pole of the Moon alone, an amount that can be used by humanity for over 10,000 years. Helium-3 has an energy efficiency incomparably higher than Earth’s fossil fuels, and is an element known as dream energy and attracting attention as a future nuclear fusion fuel. 1g of helium-3 can produce energy equivalent to around 40 tonnes of coal, and there is no need to worry about environmental pollution as no carbon or radioactive waste is emitted when producing this energy.
So far, the only countries that have successfully attempted unmanned lunar landings are the United States, Russia, and most recently China and India, and the countries that have successfully explored a lunar orbiter are seven countries, including Korea , the United States, Russia, Japan, the EU, China, and India. Korea launched its first test lunar orbiter, Danuri (KPLO, Korea Pathfinder Lunar Orbiter), on August 5, 2022. Currently, it has successfully entered a circular orbit at an altitude of 100 km and is currently conducting an inspection tour.
According to the Moon Treaty established in 1979, natural resources such as the moon were designated as humanity’s common heritage. In the future, Korea will need great interest from the scientific community and the government so that it can go beyond the successful lunar exploration of the lunar orbiter Danuri and send a lander to the south pole and the far side of the moon.
Professor Hayang, Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering, Ulsan National University of Science and Technology
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