By Leonard David
China's mission to robotically land on the moon next month is sure to stir up lunar dust, but it may also cause a political dustup, too.
China is in the final stages of preparing its robotic Chang'e 3 moon lander to launch atop a Long March 3B rocket, slated for liftoff in early December. The ambitious mission is built to first orbit the moon, then propel down to a landing site, after which a small, solar-powered lunar rover will be unleashed.
Already on duty orbiting the moon is NASA's Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE). The probe's science instrument commissioning is now underway, after which the spacecraft will drop down to the lower lunar science orbit and start the full science phase of the mission.
LADEE is designed to study the moon's thin exosphere and the lunar dust environment. However, there is concern that China's ambitious Chang'e 3 mission could impact LADEE's science goals.
"The arrival of the Chang'e 3 spacecraft into lunar orbit and then its descent to the surface will result in a significant contamination of the lunar exosphere by the propellant," saidJeff Plescia, a space scientist at Johns Hopkins University's Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md. . . .
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