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Fly me to the universe
by Staff Writers
Beijing (XNA) Nov 25, 2012

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In the eye of Ouyang Ziyuan, Chinese will not only explore the moon and Mars, but the sun, Venus and Jupiter, as well.

"I wish we could travel further away," said Ouyang, chief scientist of China's lunar orbiter project, in an interview with Xinhua on Friday.

"By 'further away,' I mean further than 400,000 kilometers (the distance between Earth and the moon). I hope it will be 1 billion, even 10 billion kilometers away from our home planet."

The Chang'e-2 orbiter, China's second lunar probe, has flown further away, indeed, and will meet with planet number 4179 by the end of the year.

"I hope Chinese people can set their 'footprints' all over the solar system," the 78-year-old scientist said.

Dreams And Responsibilities
Though his name contains the character "yuan," which means "far away" in Chinese, Ouyang had initially focused his career on geological exploration on Earth.

"Maybe this is my destiny," he said.

After studying geology in college and contributing to China's underground nuclear tests, Ouyang finally turned to his beloved career of exploring the moon, a celestial body both familiar and mysterious.

In the late 1990s, after seeing other countries achievements in lunar exploration, Ouyang believed it was his duty and responsibility to promote space exploration in his home country.

"The orbiters are like our eyes, realizing our dream to see the outer world," he said in his office dotted with two globes of the Earth and seven different sized globes of the moon, including one covered in images of the lunar surface mapped by the Chang'e-1.

"Our explorer uses stereo cameras and X-ray spectrometers to map images of the lunar surface from 200 kilometers above it. And the quality of our map is better than Japan and India's," Ouyang said. "The Chang'e-1 only cost 1.4 billion yuan (about 222.22 million U.S. dollars), the same amount used to construct two kilometers of subway in Beijing."

Another breakthrough made by the Chang'e-1 involves measuring the thickness of the soil of the moon to determine the exact amount of helium-3, a resource for nuclear fusion.

"When obtaining nuclear power from helium-3 becomes a reality, the lunar resources can be used to generate electricity for more than 10,000 years for the whole world," he said.

Three years after sending the first orbiter to the moon, the Chang'e-2 created a full high-resolution map of the moon and high-definition images of Sinus Iridium, one half of a 260-kilometer-wide impact crater on the moon.

The Chang'e-3, which is expected to be launched in 2013, will realize a smooth and soft landing on the lunar surface. According to Ouyang, the explorer is operated by a lander and a probe. The telescope, which will be the first telescope based on the moon, will be set on the lander, and the smartest robot on the probe will use radar to explore geological structures 100 meters below the lunar surface and analyze the soil of the moon.

A scientist as well as a lunar enthusiast, Ouyang believes that "what we have explored so far is just a small step in knowing the whole moon."

He is deeply attracted to Earth's only natural satellite and curious about its origins, evolution and future.

Disseminating Popular Science
"People always ask why we keep doing those things that have already been done by others. Chinese people can hardly solve the problems on our home planet, so why explore the moon?" Ouyang said.

Those questions and people's lack of scientific knowledge have made Ouyang realize the necessity of spreading popular science knowledge to the general public.

Someone once told him that he is like a sincere priest, preaching his ideals.

To give lectures to a wide range of audiences, he has prepared more than 20 different presentations appropriate for academicians, government officials, college students and even young students, respectively. He introduces basic information about the moon, China's lunar probe project and the significance of lunar exploration.

"The exploration we do today will have an impact on all of mankind in the future," Ouyang said.

He offered the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Apollo program (1963-1972) as an example: "The program led to the invention of more than 3,000 kinds of high technologies, boosted the country's economy and contributed to its political interests."

"China's exploration of outer space has already promoted technological improvement and innovation and cultivated a great scientific team. The results of our exploration have helped many companies to make technological breakthroughs, thus expanding their market and gaining economic benefits," he said.

Ouyang is satisfied with the knowledge that his work hasn't proved futile. "Many young people send me letters, which inspires me to keep spreading scientific knowledge."

Scientific Romance
The moon is a symbol of beauty in Chinese culture. Plenty of poems have been written about the moon, and the Chang'e orbiters are inspiring more and more Chinese people to dream about flying there.

In reality, however, the moon is a deserted, desolate satellite. Pictures of the orb can be devastating, even heartbreaking, to those who have always imagined it as a place of mystery and wonder.

"I see the moon from a very different perspective. I know its history, every hit by other small celestial bodies," Ouyang said. "In my eyes, what is fascinating about the moon is not what it looks like, but its years of noble acts to save our Earth."

"Our knowledge about the moon will keep improving from both scientific and cultural perspectives," he added.

Source: Xinhua News Agency


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