A South Korean spacecraft is scheduled to enter orbit around the Moon tomorrow. That will make South Korea the seventh nation or group of nations to successfully reach the Moon. And the mission will lead what’s expected to be a rush on the Moon over the next few years.
Danuri — a smash-up of words that mean “Moon” and “enjoy” — was launched in August. It followed a looping path to the Moon that took more time but less energy. It’ll spend a couple of weeks refining its orbit, then get to work in January.
Danuri is intended mainly as a test flight. It’ll help the Korean space program develop the tools and experience for more ambitious missions later on.
But it also carries a suite of instruments. They’ll map the contours of the lunar surface, study the Moon’s interior, and photograph possible landing sites. An American-built instrument will look into dark craters at the poles for evidence of water ice — a potential resource for future explorers.
Many other craft are supposed to head for the Moon over the next couple of years. The next American mission could launch as early as the next few weeks. It’s part of a NASA program that will use commercial spacecraft to ferry science instruments to the Moon. The program will include a rover to explore the icy craters near the south pole.
China, Russia, India, and several other countries have announced plans for missions as well — beginning a new rush to the Moon.
Script by Damond Benningfield