Though its extended mission was cut short by a mishap in 1994, NASA’s ill-fated Clementine lunar orbiter returned data with significant implications for further manned visits to the moon. NASA announces that craters near the north and south poles of Earth’s moon may harbor enough water ice to allow long-term colonization, and could also be used to create propellant on-site. While this promising announcement occurs as the 30th anniversary of the first manned moon landing approaches, any further manned visits exist strictly on paper.
The Japanese space agency, JAXA, launches the unmanned SELENE (Selenological and Engineering Explorer) spacecraft to orbit Earth’s moon. SELENE is nicknamed Kaguya after a princess of the moon from Japanese folklore. Kaguya is scheduled to enter a polar lunar orbit in October, where it will conduct experiments in spectography, radio science, and charged particle and gamma ray detection. Though Kaguya has an on-board camera to map lunar terrain, the views for which it will become most famous will be shot by two HDTV cameras supplied by Japanese television network NHK, providing spectacular views of the lunar surface as they would be seen by an orbiting explorer.
Japan’s unmanned Kaguya spacecraft, also known as SELENE, enters a polar orbit around Earth’s moon with an average altitude of 62 miles. Billed by Japanese space agency JAXA as the most significant lunar mission since the Apollo era, Kaguya carries numerous science experiments, though the public is most captivated by video transmitted back to Earth from two on-board HDTV cameras supplied by television network NHK. Kaguya conducts accurate gravitational mapping of the far side of the moon for the first time, and its own terrain camera obtains high-resolution mapping data, which will later be shared with Google for an online 3-D map of the moon.
Japan’s unmanned Kaguya spacecraft, also known as SELENE, is intentionally crashed into the surface of Earth’s moon, which it has been orbiting and studying for nearly two years (twice its intended one-year operational lifetime). Having completed its observations and studies (as well as transmitting back to Earth high-definition camera views of the moon from orbit), Kaguya impacts near the crater Gill.
China successfully lands the unmanned lunar lander Chang’e 3 on the surface of the moon, only the third country on Earth to achieve a controlled lunar landing (and the first soft landing of a man-made space vehicle on the moon since the 1970s). With Chang’e 3 confirming that its solar panels have properly deployed, preparations are made to deploy its robotic lunar rover, Yutu, the first lunar rover since 1973, breaking a four-decade drought in exploring the surface of the moon.
Private aerospace company SpaceX announces that a crew of two – not publicly identified by the company – have booked a private circumlunar flight scheduled to take place in 2018 aboard a SpaceX Dragon v2 capsule. The flight will utilize a free-return trajectory to the moon, around its dark side, and back to Earth, without orbiting or landing. At the time of the announcement, Dragon v2 has yet to fly into space, either with or without a crew, and the booster that would be required for this flight, the Falcon Heavy, has yet to be test-flown, either with or without a crew.