Beijing, July 6 (Xinhua/UNB) -- With eyes bright, Sun Zezhou, chief designer of China's Chang'e-4 lunar probe, speaks fast but clearly.
"Every time I see the moon, I think how Chinese probes have left permanent footprints on it, especially Chang'e-4, the first spacecraft to soft-land on the far side. As a member of the mission, I'm very proud," said Sun.
Chinese engineers began plans for the Chang'e-1 lunar probe in the 1990s, when Sun joined the team. China only had a monitoring system for near-Earth satellites, and communication with the moon at a distance of 380,000 km was still a big challenge.
"When I first heard the old experts discussing lunar exploration in 1996, I felt the moon was very distant," recalled Sun, who majored in monitoring and communication.
Now Sun's gaze turns to the Red Planet on clear nights.
"Now 380,000 km is no longer far, but 400 million km is a new headache," joked Sun, whose team is developing a Mars probe.
China plans to launch the Mars probe in 2020, and aims to complete orbiting, landing and roving in one mission, an unprecedented achievement.
"This shows China's innovative spirit in space exploration," said Sun.
But Mars is a totally new challenge for Chinese engineers. They have to solve problems such as long-distance monitoring, control and communication between Earth and Mars, as well as how to land.
Since the 1960s, more than 40 Mars missions have been carried out, about half successfully.
Sun's biggest concern is the atmosphere.
"When we were designing the lunar probe, we thought it would be great if the moon had an atmosphere. The probe had to carry lots of propellants. About two-thirds of the takeoff weight was propellants," Sun said.
"But when we started to develop the Mars probe, we found the Mars atmosphere very troublesome. Although we don't need to carry so many propellants, the uncertainty caused by the atmosphere is much more complicated. Sometimes, it relies on luck. "
He used "very troublesome" to describe several difficulties in the development of the Mars probe. But his team has risen to the challenges.
"It is pressure that brings about technological progress," Sun said.
Li Fei, 39, dreamed of space as a child. After studying robotics at Tianjin University, he joined the China Academy of Space Technology in 2009, and became a key member of the Chang'e-3 and Chang'e-4 team.
"Our probe can be seen as a robot. The landing process of Chang'e-4 was totally autonomous. The probe could identify obstacles on the moon. In future space exploration, especially to Mars, Jupiter and even Pluto, communication between the probe and Earth will be longer and more difficult. So we need smarter robots," Li said.
When the team tested the hovering technology of the probe's lander in the suburbs of Beijing in a freezing cold winter, they had to get up at 3 a.m. every day as the instruments on the probe only worked at low temperatures. After the trials each day, they had to analyze the data. This went on for a month.
In the 1960s and 1970s, the lunar landings of the United States were controlled by astronauts, and the lunar probes of the Soviet Union had no hovering and obstacle avoidance technology. China first realized autonomous hovering and obstacle avoidance during the lunar landing process.
A Russian space engineer once told Li that they had replayed the video of the Chang'e-3 landing more than 100 times to study how China did it.
"We had studied the Soviet Union's lunar missions countless times, and now they are learning from us," Li said.
"The greatest joy of deep-space exploration is to discover the unknown, and to contribute to the development of science and technology."
Deep-space exploration is high-risk, said Sun. "We can never stop. There are always new challenges. This is the attraction. If we repeat the same thing many years without challenges, we will lose the meaning of exploration.
"When we successfully land on Mars, we might feel that Jupiter is far away. But as China continues to advance deep-space exploration, Jupiter will become closer and closer."
Los Angeles, Jul 6 (AP/UNB)— The 1969 moon landing turned an achievement seen only in the imagination and sci-fi movies into a most improbable television event, a live broadcast starring Neil Armstrong and a desolate landscape.
The astounding images from more than 200,000 miles away mesmerized viewers, a feat TV hopes to replicate leading up to the Apollo 11 mission's 50th anniversary on July 20.
There's a galaxy of programs about the science, the people and the sheer wonder of the voyage, including documentaries with footage and audio not made public before and, of course, modern special effects to make it all the more vivid.
Among the highlights (all times EDT):
— "Apollo: Missions to the Moon," National Geographic, 9 p.m. Sunday. The two-hour film by Tom Jennings uses a mix of TV and radio news accounts, home movies, NASA footage and previously unaired mission control audio recordings to revisit all the manned Apollo missions.
— "The Day We Walked on the Moon," 9 p.m. Sunday, Smithsonian Channel. A by-the-minute description of the day of the moon mission by those who were part of it, including astronaut Michael Collins, and those who viewed it from afar, such as Queen guitarist and scientist Brian May.
— "American Experience: Chasing the Moon," PBS and pbs.org, 9 p.m. July 8-10 (check local listings). Robert Stone's six-hour documentary, narration-free and using only archival footage, tracks the space race from its start to the lunar landing and beyond, examining the scientific innovation, politics, personal drama and media spectacle that propelled it.
— "From the Earth to the Moon," HBO platforms starting July 15. The 1998 miniseries is back with its original visual effects replaced by computer-generated ones based, according to HBO, on NASA reference models. The cast includes Sally Field, Gary Cole and Tom Hanks, who also produced the drama available on HBO Go, HBO Now and HBO On Demand. A HBO channel marathon airing of all 12 episodes begins at 8:45 a.m. July 20.
— "8 Days: To the Moon and Back," PBS, 9 p.m. July 17 (check local listings). Co-produced by PBS and BBC Studios, the new film tracks the mission from countdown to splashdown with a combination of recently declassified audio, interviews with the Apollo 11 crew, mission re-enactments, archival TV news footage and photographs.
— "NASA's Giant Leaps: Past and Future," NASA TV and Discovery Science Channel, 1 p.m. July 19. A salute to the Apollo astronauts and to the space agency's future missions, broadcast from the Kennedy Space Center and with segments from the Johnson Space Center in Houston and the Museum of Flight in Seattle, where the Apollo 11 command module is on display.
— "Apollo: The Forgotten Films," Discovery, 8 p.m. July 20. Footage from NASA, the National Archives, news reports and other sources provides a behind-the-scenes look at how engineers, scientists and astronauts achieved the moon landing goal set earlier in the decade by President John F. Kennedy.
— "The National Symphony Orchestra Pops presents Apollo 11: A Fiftieth Anniversary," PBS, 9 p.m. July 20. NASA, the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and the symphony collaborated for this musical and visual tribute to the moon landing, with appearances by Pharrell Williams, Natasha Bedingfield and LeVar Burton. Meredith Vieira and Adam Savage host.
— "Apollo 11," CNN, 9 p.m. July 20. The documentary film from director-producer Todd Douglas Miller recounts the mission from the Saturn V rocket's transport to its launch pad to the astronauts' return to Earth, using newly discovered 70mm footage, extensive audio recordings and other digitized and restored material from the National Archives and NASA.
— "Moon Landing Live," BBC America, 9 p.m. July 20. News archives from around the world and NASA footage are used to recount the mission's ambition and achievement and how it captured international attention.
— "Confessions from Space: Apollo," Discovery, 10 p.m. July 20. The program with the tabloid-sounding title gathers six astronauts who took part in Apollo program missions to jointly share their memories and insights. Among them are Apollo 11's Collins and Buzz Aldrin and Charles Duke of Apollo 16.
Dhaka, Jul 4 (AP/UNB) - A half-dozen North Atlantic right whales have died in the past month, leading scientists, government officials and conservationists to call for a swift response to protect the endangered species.
There are only a little more than 400 of the right whales left. All six of the dead whales have been found in the Gulf of St. Lawrence off Canada, and at least three appear to have died after they were hit by ships.
The deaths have led scientists to sound the alarm about a potentially catastrophic loss to the population. The deaths are especially troubling because they include females, said Philip Hamilton, research scientist with the Anderson Cabot Center for Ocean Life at the New England Aquarium.
"If we're going to have deaths, they just can't be female," Hamilton said, adding the population is down to only about 100 reproductive females. "We need a different system."
Right whales have suffered high mortality and poor reproduction in recent years, particularly in 2017. The whales appear to be traveling in different areas of the ocean than usual because of food availability, said Nick Record, senior research scientist at Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences in Maine.
That shift, linked to the warming of the ocean, has apparently brought whales outside protected zones and left them vulnerable, he said.
"Animals like whales that have to figure out where their food is, they have to figure out a new environment as they go," Record said. "You can almost think of the whales like climate migration."
Right whales are so named because they were considered the "right whale" to hunt during the commercial whaling era of long ago. They could often be hunted close to the coast and provided a reliable source of whale oil, a precious commodity of the time.
Those characteristics led to the decimation of the population, and it has struggled to rebuild since. The animals numbered as few as about 270 as recently as 1990, and as many as about 480 in 2010.
Fisheries and Oceans Canada said Tuesday that the necropsy of the sixth whale, which was named Clipper, was completed in Quebec, and that the animal's death appeared consistent with blunt trauma from a vessel strike.
Ship strikes and entanglement in fishing gear are two top threats to right whales often cited by conservationists.
A speed restriction of 10 knots in the area where the whale was first observed remained in effect, the agency said. It also said it has increased surveillance over the Gulf of St. Lawrence to assess the location of the whales and make sure mariners comply with rules.
Chris Oliver, assistant administrator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Marine Fisheries Service, said Wednesday he is calling for a meeting with the Canadian government to request "immediate action to provide comprehensive protection" for the whales.
"Preventing any additional deaths of North Atlantic right whales is our highest priority. To do this, we must work with our partners to strengthen protections immediately," Oliver said in a statement.
Bremerhaven, Jul 4 (AP/UNB) — Cranes hoist cargo onto the deck, power tools scream out and workers bustle through the maze of passageways inside the German icebreaker RV Polarstern, preparations for a yearlong voyage that organizers say is unprecedented in scale and ambition.
In a couple of months, the hulking ship will set out for the Arctic packed with supplies and scientific equipment for a mission to explore the planet's frigid far north. The icebreaker will be the base for scientists from 17 nations studying the impact of climate change on the Arctic and how it could affect the rest of the world.
"So far we have always been locked out of that region and we lack even the basic observations of the climate processes in the central Arctic from winter," said Markus Rex of Germany's Alfred Wegener Institute, who will lead the 140-million euro ($158 million) expedition.
"We are going to change that for the first time," Rex told The Associated Press in an interview Wednesday aboard the Polarstern at its dock in Bremerhaven, Germany.
Scientists plan to sail the ship into the Arctic Ocean, anchor it to a large piece of sea ice and allow the water to freeze around them, effectively trapping themselves in the vast sheet of white that forms over the North Pole each winter.
As temperatures drop and the days get shorter, they'll race against time to build temporary winter research camps on the ice, allowing them to perform tests that wouldn't be possible at other times of the year or by satellite sensing.
"We can do a lot with robotics and other things but in the end the visual, the manual observation and also the measurement, that's still what we need," Marcel Nicolaus, a German sea ice physicist who will be part of the international mission, said. "We need to go out, establish that ice camp."
Dozens of scientists from the United States, China, Russia and other countries will be on board the Polarstern at any one time, rotating every two months as other icebreakers bring fresh supplies and a new batch of eager researchers.
The mission is considered a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for many scientists, even those who are veterans of multiple Arctic expeditions.
It is receiving substantial funding from U.S. institutions such as the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and NASA.
By combining measurements on the ice with data collected from satellites, scientists hope to improve the increasingly sophisticated computer models they use to predict weather and climate.
The interdisciplinary work spans several fields of science, including physics, chemistry and biology. Its overarching purpose - to answer key questions around global warming - means there's no time for national rivalry, said Rex.
"The different geopolitical interests don't play a role in our research community," he said.
The mission's international collaboration and scope have drawn comparisons with the International Space Station, the most expensive and remote outpost mankind has yet created.
"Actually, we'll be farther away from civilization because the space station is in an orbit only 400 to 500 kilometers high," Rex said.
Once the Polarstern is carried into the depth of the Arctic night, far off the coast of northern Greenland, the scientists will be on their own, making any emergency evacuation almost impossible.
"We'll be isolated," Rex said. "No other ice breaker can then reach us because the ice will be too thick."
While the ship has a fully equipped medical station, the aim is to avoid any calamity on board, said Verena Mohaupt, a logistics expert who has spent months preparing safety measures for the mission.
This includes creating a perimeter fence on the ice that will sound a loud alarm if a polar bear approaches. "We're going to have to experiment and hope it works," said Mohaupt.
The MOSAiC mission, which stands for Multidisciplinary drifting Observatory for the Study of Arctic Climate, comes about 125 years after Norwegian explorer Fridtjof Nansen first managed to seal his wooden expedition ship, Fram, into the ice during a three-year expedition to the North Pole.
Since then, scientific understanding of the role the Arctic plays in the world's climate has grown, though so has concern about the changes being observed, such as increasingly early sea ice melts .
Scientists now believe the cold cap that forms each year is key to regulating weather patterns and temperatures across the Northern Hemisphere. Anything that disrupts the Arctic will be felt further south , they say.
Rex cited the polar vortices that blasted cold air as far as Florida last winter and the early summer heat wave in Europe as prime examples of the impact that a change in the Arctic weather system might entail.
"The dramatic warming of the Arctic doesn't stay in the Arctic," he said, adding that understanding the processes at play in the far north is crucial if world leaders are to make the right decisions to curb climate change.
"We as scientists, I think, have the obligation to produce the robust scientific basis for political decisions," Rex said.
Los Angeles, July 2 (Xinhua/UNB) -- Engineers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, have installed the SuperCam Mast Unit onto the Mars 2020 rover, according to a JPL release on Tuesday.
The instrument's camera, laser and spectrometers can identify the chemical and mineral makeup of targets as small as a pencil point from a distance of more than six meters.
SuperCam is a next-generation version of the Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) instrument operating on NASA's Curiosity Mars rover, according to JPL. It has been developed jointly in the United States, France and Spain.
"SuperCam has come a long way from being a bold and ambitious idea to an actual instrument," said Sylvestre Maurice, the SuperCam deputy principal investigator at the Institut de Recherche en Astrophysique et Planetologie in Toulouse, France, a French laboratory of space astrophysics.
"While it still has a long way to go -- all the way to Mars -- this is a great day for not only SuperCam but the amazing consortium that put it together," he said.
Mars 2020 scientists will use SuperCam to examine Martian rocks and soil, seeking organic compounds that could be related to past life on Mars, said JPL.
Also to be installed in the next few weeks is Mars 2020's Sample Caching System, which includes 17 separate motors and will collect samples of Martian rock and soil that will be left on the surface of Mars for return to Earth by a future mission, according to JPL.
Mars 2020 rover is scheduled to launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida in July 2020. It will land at Jezero Crater on Mars on Feb. 18, 2021.