Tue, Jan 16, 2007 - Page 4 News List

Japan ends moon plans

NO GO An aging mother ship too expensive to fix has forced Japan's space program to abandon its plans to reach the moon for a long time to come


Japan's space agency has recommended scrapping its first moon mission after more than a decade of delays, a spokeswoman said yesterday, in the latest blow to the country's space program.

The Lunar-A probe was envisioned as planting two seismic sensors on the lunar surface to gather information about the moon's core and learn more about the origins of the Earth's only natural satellite.

But development of the so-called penetrator probes has taken so long that the mission's mother ship, which was built 10 years ago, has fallen into disrepair and would require too much money to fix, said Satoko Kanazawa, a spokeswoman for the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA).

The mission would have been Japan's first to the moon's surface, and was scheduled for lift-off in 1995. Japan will now scrap the mission but finish development of penetrator probes and offer technology to other space programs, including Russia's, Kanazawa said.

JAXA's space development committee recommended canceling the Lunar-A project yesterday, and a final decision will be made later in the month, he said.

Only the US, Russia and the EU have landed probes on the moon. But China, which leapt ahead of Japan by putting astronauts into orbit in 2005, has also said it has set its sights on a moon landing.

Japan has yet to launch a manned flight of its own, although the country has floated plans to land a man on the moon by 2025.

Japan was the fourth country to put a satellite in orbit, in 1972, but the program has suffered numerous setbacks in recent years. Its efforts to develop a commercial satellite was dealt a major blow in 2003, when a rocket carrying two spy satellites malfunctioned and was destroyed mid-flight.

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