US Signs International Deal to Collaborate on Lunar Missions

Article written: 28 Jul , 2008
Updated: 24 Dec , 2015
by

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NASA has signed a landmark agreement to collaborate with emerging space-faring nations for the exploration of the Moon. This collaboration will include Canada, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Britain and France in the aim to work with NASA developing new technologies and send a series of robotic exploratory missions to pave the way for a manned return mission. The director of NASA’s planetary science division points out that these eight member states are keen to send their first astronauts to the lunar surface. Whilst some may view this collaboration as an attempt by NASA to ‘spread the cost’ of space travel (especially in the current climate of budget cuts), the main point of this deal is to make manned missions to the Moon more of an international effort. This will give smaller space agencies more opportunities, boost the quality of the science that can be achieved and possibly lead us to some answers about how life formed on Earth 4 billion years ago…

The deal was brokered at NASA’s Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, California, last Thursday, and it is expected to be finalized tomorrow. The meeting took place during the largest Moon-specific conference since the US Apollo missions, highlighting the recent drive to get man back to the lunar surface. NASA had already allocated significant funding toward four manned landers, but scientists have asked for eight, so an international collaboration is required so adequate science can be carried out.

At the centre of this renewed vigour is the quest to understand how life was kick-started on Earth. From recent analysis of Apollo rocks brought back to Earth in the 1970’s, it is thought that the early Solar System was a violent place. Scientists believe this planetary chaos may be the root cause of life on Earth; analysing the lunar surface is critical so a better picture may be created of the Earth-Moon system billions of years ago.

What’s happening right now is that a revolution in planetary science is going on. We are taking these small pieces and we are starting to put together the puzzle, and we are surprised by what we find.” – James Green, Director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division.

Why is the Moon so special anyway? Surely most of the answers can be found down here on Earth? Well, that’s not entirely correct. The Moon is an open history book of the Solar System’s evolution. Its surface has not been altered by plate tectonics, volcanoes or atmospheric erosion processes (unlike the terrestrial surface); ancient events are etched in its rock, waiting to be read by future lunar explorers. This was the conclusion reached by National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences last year. From the evidence stored in lunar rock, it is hoped that the “terminal cataclysm hypothesis” may be proven or disproved. This theory suggests that Uranus and Neptune once orbited within the orbit of Jupiter. The cataclysm occurred when the powerful Jovian gravitational field flung the smaller gas giants to the outer reaches of the Solar System.

But where is the Earth-Moon connection? This turmoil in the Solar System will have displaced huge numbers of asteroids and comets, scattering them toward the inner planets. This event may have been the trigger of the “late heavy bombardment” between 3.8 to 4 billion years ago which coincided with the formation of life on Earth. This period of time can be studied in great depth on the Moon.

This increased interest in lunar science and the emergence of Japan, China and India create an opportunity NASA will not want to miss. This new international collaboration may be exactly what NASA needs to invigorate funding and help us understand how life was sparked on our blue planet.

Source: Mercury News


43 Responses

  1. gonzalo oxenford says

    Lets hope the flag humans will plant in lunar soil will be the one of the United Nations.

    As with Antarctica, extra-terrestrial quests should be treated as a mankind achieve.

    Working together is a natural aspect of evolution.

  2. Warren Platts says

    “This new international collaboration may be exactly what NASA needs to invigorate funding and help us understand how life was sparked on our blue planet.”

    This is a freaking disaster. What ever happened to Senate ratification of international treaties?

    The last sentence should have read: “This new international collaboration will be exactly what NASA needs to cut funding even more. . . “

  3. Tom says

    This is outstanding news! Instead of a space race where one nation secretly hopes the other nation stumbles to the ground, we will be working together to further our knowledge of moon, earth, and solar system. This will be a great accomplishment for mankind. Nations can swallow their pride and collaborate for the advancement of scientific knowledge

  4. John -- www.moonposter.ie says

    A win-win situation for everyone.

    Imagine what stage of lunar exploration we’d be at right now if this kind of cooperation and sharing of expertise and knowledge had been done a decade ago?

    John — http://www.moonposter.ie
    (The most detailed poster around on lunar knowledge)

  5. Steve says

    Thats great news for NASA, but why not include China, India and Russia? That makes no sense whatsoever to exclude the likely aerospace leaders within the next 20 years.

  6. Maxwell says

    I’m not very optimistic about it.
    Most of these deals are inked “for all of mankind” when it comes to sharing the glory, but place the burden of paying bills and dealing with inevitable failures square on the back of one or two nations.
    That may be more than NASA can bear. Its certainly too much for the ESA at this time.

    I don’t see the benefit of deflowering all space programs into one joint mission that putters along at Americas pace if it moves at all. Maybe it protects NASA from Obamas presidency in the coming years, but it wont advance mankinds overall presence in space.

    More to the future I don’t see us becoming one united space fairing world under Gods eyes. I don’t see nations sharing space quests in peace and harmony once theres money to be made.
    I especially don’t see one astronaut sitting idly by when another comes along to steal his rocks.

    There are too many levels on which these deals can end badly. I hope they’ve thought it all through.

  7. TD says

    Moon? Been there, done that. I’d rather go to Mars with bio-detection rovers, except for one very important search on the moon. If there is water ice at the poles of the moon, there is a possibility that it contains microbes or spores….probably originally from the Earth, by the spores-thru-space theory proposed by nobel-prize winner Svante Arrhenius. If that theory could be confirmed….that means almost certainly life on Mars, a universe filled with life, and a real job for the thousand astrobiologists we have.

    Good Luck Phoenix

  8. Brad says

    And we’ve seen what a wildly smooth and successful ride the international space station has been.

    Despite this, I’m with Steve. The US must understand that it is rapidly becoming uncompetitive in aerospace and needs to forge alliances with the emerging powers. That or cripple itself on the hard rock of reality like the USSR did trying to win the arms race.

  9. LLDIAZ says

    I agree why not any country from the far east they are the most likely to help us in areas where we need the most influence. What does Europe have that we don’t already, it’s the eastern bloc that we need to drain for there technology. Sounds wrong but when have you ever heard of the west just giving away rocket infromation.

  10. Chuck Lam says

    Some interesting collaboration suggested by Ames Research. Exactly what is needed, more “cooks” in the kitchen. Oh yeah, that’ll work.

  11. Chuck Lam says

    Why doesn’t the United States resurrect the old Eagle drawings, add perhaps a couple feet to the diameters of everything, update the electronics and simply “go back to the moon?” Do we really need the help of other nations to do this very simple task? i don’t get NASA’s thinking.

  12. astrocrazy says

    I Would like to think that this is a strategy by NASA to make sure that they stay at the top and know the level and pace of technical advancements made by the other space agencies rather than a ‘World Collaboration’ !!!!

  13. Gavin Flower says

    All long term plans for Mars involve a using material from our moon, and hence the necessity for a Lunar colony.

  14. dollhopf says

    The fundamental principle of humankind is to barter to satisfy mutual needs. Ever when a group of people left its homeland to settle on a foreign shore, that colony was only stable if the economic spark ignited. If there are no relations of give and take to meet the needs of daily life, a colony will die away. People don’t have reproduction and human society doesn’t grow, if a successful market cannot emerge.

    What does the moon offer humans? There are no forrests, no fishing grounds, no grasslands.

    We need to find reasons to live on the moon, anything people can trade with, may it be resources or services, information or tourism, space haven capacities, the ability to fix damaged space ships …. whatever.

    Without having anything valuable to sell to others, a colony on the moon won’t flourish. It will become nothing then a highly subsidised undertaking and fannish as soon as the responsible committee cuts the funding.

    A moon colony has to become more than a technology demonstrator. Whatever it is that is slumbering in the ground there that makes moon a place for wealth, it need to be found as soon as possible to make the whole colonization thing a fast-selling item.

    Find it and give the to-be locals the political and economical control over it.

  15. LLDIAZ says

    50 years of being a role model space agency down the drain now we look like the giant thats fallen and needs help getting back up. Pathetic
    A country’s space program is part of it’s prestige its pomp if you will. To ‘openly ask for help, the private sector grabbing more headlines ‘ all these things are making nasa look bad these days.

  16. RL says

    If I understand this correctly, this is coordinating robotic missions to the moon, not manned missions. Correct? Maybe it could lead to manned exploration and flag planting, but not directly.

  17. Dark Gnat says

    To me, this makes NASA seem even more impotent.

    I’m sure China would like to thank Congress for undoing all of the hard work and leadership that the US Space agency was known for.

  18. Tech Roach says

    This is great news. The difference is like Open Source and proprietary. Now, brains from some more great countries like China, India etc can be put in, to do some real science.

  19. geokstr says

    When I was a little kid a long time ago, I read a comment that fits here = ” That MUST be the answer. God is a committee.”

    This is virtually guaranteed to slow down the pace of lunar exploration, at least for the United States, while placing all the burden for coordination, supervision and management squarely on us, as well as all the blame for anything that goes wrong. There will be endless turf battles for who does what and when and for how much.

    Meanwhile, China will be hurling manned expeditions at the moon (and even Mars) one after another, hoping that at least one of them eventually won’t go “splat” on the surface. What do they care if they lose a few maonauts; there’s nearly two billion more where they came from.

  20. Gonzalo says

    What happens to you people from USA that are so blind. so USA centric. you are as stupid as the ones that made Copernicus life more difficult.

    “we we we we, center of the world” WTF.

  21. Concerned citizen says

    I hope that this will not play out as the article states, since by and far this is a set-back for both NASA and European partners concerned, let alone ESA.

    It undermines both organizations with a totally redundant layer of governance, leading to an ever increasing waste of scarce resources without anything concrete enough to speak about. Mission by mission basis cooperation is welcomed, but this vague framework appears to be a total failure in all respects.

    An inevitable outcome from these “empty feel-good” PR-treaties should be an increased criticism and opposition concerning the Agencies in question.

    Maybe it would be a good time for politicians on both sides of the pond to get something done and bring down this Potemkin Village, before it causes too much irreparable damage?

  22. Aodhhan says

    Nothing bad can come from collaboration. We in the US do not have a monopoly on brain power. Getting to the moon is not the bottom line goal here. Accomplishing something for mankind and science (insert your favorite reason) is. Look beyond the transportation aspect.

    Do some looking around. There are plenty of multi-national projects currently going on in the scientific community; not just in those which study outer space.

    Splitting costs among many nations is fiscally intelligent. Especially when there are so many projects to work on.

    Those who believe this is a waste of money, must believe man is at a point where they will be unable to learn or create anything new in the future. What a sad state to be in. Not to mention ignorant; not realizing all the things they use everyday which was developed or refined through the aerospace industry.

    I say we’ve barely scratched the surface.

  23. rich says

    America should go it alone and claim the moon as our property. We were these first, and we have the best chance of establishing a permanent settlement. I see no reason to give Canada, France, etc any kind of help getting there. Let them mount their own billion dollar programs instead of giving them a free ride on the back of the American taxpayer.

  24. Chuck Lam says

    To: Aodhhan, I think Rich, LLDIAZ and Frank Glover are seeing this
    international “help thing” more realistically. The United States doesn’t need help intellectually or financially. What’s needed is better management in NASA.

  25. Frank Glover says

    International cooperation sounds nice…but it can also be an organizational nightmare. (Even those Antarctic research bases are operated by *individual* nations.)

    And it depends on the political good will of all participants during the entire project. (Britain and France almost didn’t hang together long enough to develop Concorde…even allowig for the fact that that was a commercial project, not basic science)

    Did anything really come of Apollo-Soyuz?

    And not ‘all mankind’ has something to offer to any given space effort.

    What everyone really needs is technology to lower lainch costs and increase launch reliability to LEO. Everything will flow naturally from that.

    Instead of projects necessairily requiring international support, we need to get to where NON-national entities can afford to do more in space.

  26. Michael P. says

    “A country’s space program is part of it’s prestige its pomp if you will.” -LLDIAZ

    It is this attitude, be it presently true or not, has held the world back for decades.

    I want, and it is my goal to make, humanity into a space fairing species. I don’t care about prestige.

    If scientific research is the fastest and easiest way to justify doing so, that’s fine with me. The same cannot be said of using exploration exclusively as a tool for scientific research, with no regard to our specie’s long term future off this rock.

  27. dollhopf says

    Its last substantiated contribution to Americas way to the moon was Wernher von Braun. Don’t worry that Germany could be a great help again.

    Just recently, the German secretary of commerce, Michael Glos, doomed German’s LEO project, the Lunar Exploration Orbiter, and thus catapulted the country out of the race before it even started.

    The necessary expenditures would have been 350 million Euros for a period of five to seven years and ostensibly fell prey to budget consolidation. But apparently it was redirected to a prestige project in the home province of the secretary, where his party is currently on hustings.

    By the way, in Germans capital Berlin alone the local public transport (S-Bahn and Busses) suffers a loss of 15 million Euros each year due to vandalism? In seven years this are a 100 million Euros. Just in Berlin! Then take three other major German cities, such as Frankfurt, Bremen and Hamburg and you see the money for a complete space project scrunched and thrown away puckishly. By the same group of people which constantly demand more money from the German welfare system. I guess that many of them were among the fawning Germans, which celebrated an American presidential candidate in Berlin recently.

  28. Chuck Lam says

    To” Michael P., “It is this attitude, be it presently true or not, has held the world back for decades.” Michael, your comment is a bit off the mark. Just a reminder that every great thinker ever published has worked basically alone. Ego and prestige are part of the driving force in mans accomplishments. One more comment, as a practical matter, it appears mankind will never leave the solar system if the speed of light can not be surpassed. We will be “stuck” on this rock called Earth until we go extinct.

  29. Van says

    Wonderful news! If only China and Russia would join now.

  30. Chuck Lam says

    To: Dollhopf, It is within the realm of possibility that there may be some heretofore unknown phenomenon to be discovered that will allow speed of light travel. If so, mankind will, at the least, leave the solar system for exploration purposes.

  31. Chuck Lam says

    To” Dollhopf, Hmm . . . where to start concerning deep space travel. First, I agree man will probably send a science team to the astroid belt. However, I don’t think that would qualify as a deep space trip. Deep space travel would be a trip away from the influence of our sun to the Alpha C system some four plus light years distant. We know it will take thousands of years and hundreds upon hundreds of human generations to get there based on current technology. Ok! Let’s assume a meaningful reduction in travel time to Alpha C of, say, 25%, 50% or more. Then what? It will still take forever to get to Alpha system. Who in government will approve a multi-billion dollar project with a return on investment that will not be realized for hundreds or thousands of years into the future? I’m afraid mankind is forever stuck in the vicinity of our sun.

  32. dollhopf says

    Chuck Lam wrote, “it appears mankind will never leave the solar system if the speed of light can not be surpassed.”

    Awesome! It is not even possible to speed up to a remarkable fraction of the speed of light. On the other hand, it is already pretty expensive to travel on low speed.

    “We will be “stuck” on this rock called Earth until we go extinct.”

    sounds reasonable 🙁

  33. dollhopf says

    But what are the specific reasons that you assume that the accelerations we can produce so far do not allow extended manned space travel beyond, say, the asteroid belt?

    Yes, the psychological profile of those voyagers should notedly differ from that of contemporary pilots like Gargarin, Armstrong or the NASA astronaut corps.

    The challenge of traveling in deep space, I guess, would best be mastered by individuals with a sort of contemplative conciousness, like monks should have, like devoted worshipers on a pilgrimage. Their ship like a monastery. Because how else can the human mind deal with the void, if not having the universe in his or her innermost self.

    I guess that deep space journeys, if someone will have put it on the duty roster one morning, will be the realm of people who stand more in the Far Eastern tradition of thinking. A deep space crew would advantageously consist of Buddhanauts?

  34. Chuck Lam says

    To: Maxwell, Your views are on solid ground. I am in total agreement. However, my earlier comments are aimed at deep space travel. If mankind can not develop a means of traveling as fast or faster than the speed of light, then all this thinking and talking about space travel is for naught. Oh a few gadgets or two will be developed for the world as a result of all this think and talk, but nothing else. I suspect man will travel no further than an astroid or two beyond Pluto within the next century or two and no further. No light speed no deep space travel.

  35. Maxwell says

    >>Who in government will approve a multi-billion dollar project with a return on investment that will not be realized for hundreds or thousands of years into the future?

    If this were a few thousand years ago, and we were talking about the development of wooden dugouts in the same manner, we would hit a similar conclusion.
    I mean which village elder would pay for the development of massive iron vessels driven by jet turbines and guided by computer.
    Colonizing continents across the sea would seem highly impossible.

    The answer to the problem is to get people thinking about space, researching space, traveling in space and eventually working and living their entire lives in space. These people are the most likely to find real solutions for long term survival and travel through space.

    Space travel has to get out of the exclusive hands of government and become the publics domain.
    A task made easier if private developers can capitalize on the sale of space technology, instead of just giving it away to foreign governments.

  36. Al Hall says

    I have plenty to say about this….. But my throat hurts….

  37. Maxwell says

    Maybe thats true Chuck.

    …but it sure would be a waste of Gods gift of life to sit on this rock and wait for another rock to wipe us out without even trying.
    Especially if the answers to deep space travel turned out to be stupidly simple. You never know.

    To put people in space, to put wars in space, and to put business in space means its highly profitable to move through space quickly.
    The desire for success in business and war have gotten us this far.

    If theres a better incentive to develop a faster than light drive system, I cant think of one.

  38. dollhopf says

    “We know it will take thousands of years and hundreds upon hundreds of human generations to get there based on current technology. … It will still take forever to get to Alpha system.”

    But we do interpret the fact of a very long travel time under the premise of a relatively short lifetime. Our subjective perception of a very long time is induced by our foreseeable lifespan.

    In Germany today newborn girls have a predicted average lifespan of 82 years (boys 76.6). Every second girl has a chance to become more than 100 years old. In the year 1849 the most long-living women were in Sweden and the female population there had a lifespan of 46 years. The Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research found out that the average lifespan of the offspring in Germany today increases by three month each year and no end of this trend is in sight.

    We already found life-forms here on earth that theoretically could live forever: Hydra polyps. If technology fails to find appropriate forms of propulsion for fast traveling beyond the Interstellar Boundary, then, which would in the end mean the same, it might tremendously increase the lifespan of the travellers?

    (The best, of course, would be to travel with speed of light while living eternally 😉

  39. dollhopf says

    “The desire for success in business and war have gotten us this far.”

    Maxwell, what drives us? Maslov’s Hierarchy of Needs. Physical well being and social appreciation. People strive for this constitutional goals. Why should they reach out for the stars in their pursuit of happiness?

    The insights of modern economical theory claims that war isn’t economically at all. Sure, sometimes you have to fight for your freedom, which is the foundation of a successful economy. Especially when the enemy is immune against rational thinking because of religious blindness.

    So I guess that more than war, it is the cultural development of every single member of a society, and that this leads a community to cultural peak performances, to high-technology, and in consequence to the stars. I already mentioned the immense financial losses due to vandalism in German cities. You probably read about the crime of Robert A. Williams in the NYT. What is their culture medium?

    The father or mother of all things is evolution, cultural evolution included, this is what has brought us this far, I suppose. Fate has no point of view, it is a value-free interplay of what we humans interpret as good and evil. So, if we want societies which are able to improve propulsion systems for space travels we should strive to improve individuals in these societies from birth on.

  40. Maxwell says

    A wise argument… that I would accept more if our first astronauts did not ride into space on the tips of nuclear missile.
    It might also have more play if the private space industry was pushed by the drive for enlightenment more than the need to fill ones coffers with gold.

    For the forseeable future the expansion of space will be developed by apes fighting to build the largest pile of shiny rocks (or trying to steal someone elses rocks).

    Don’t knock the tried and true.

  41. Maxwell says

    A wise argument… that I would accept more if our first astronauts did not ride into space on the tips of nuclear missiles.
    It might also have more play if the private space industry was pushed by the drive for enlightenment more than the need to fill ones coffers with gold.

    For the forseeable future the expansion of space will be developed by apes fighting to build the largest pile of shiny rocks (or trying to steal someone elses rocks).

    Don’t knock the tried and true.

  42. dollhopf says

    “developed by apes”

    But it sounds good to me. Is already a copyright on it?

  43. Loki says

    geokstr says: “What do they care if they lose a few maonauts; there’s nearly two billion more where they came from.”

    I believe the proper term is “Taikonaut”.

    dollhopf says: “The challenge of traveling in deep space, I guess, would best be mastered by individuals with a sort of contemplative conciousness, like monks should have, like devoted worshipers on a pilgrimage. Their ship like a monastery. Because how else can the human mind deal with the void, if not having the universe in his or her innermost self.”

    Interesting concept.

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