March 4, 2008

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No News is Bad News

I am disappointed. For the first time since the nineties there are spacecraft orbiting the Moon, taking hundreds of thousands of images. SMART-1 orbited from November 2004 to September 2006, and Japan's Kaguya (Selene) and China's Chang’e-1 have circled the Moon since October 2007 and November, 2007. But so few exciting new images and other data have been released that it is worth wondering why. For SMART there are rumors that the imaging cameras didn't always work correctly, that there was no budget for archiving data, and that the imagery wasn't important since it was a technology demonstration mission. Whatever the reason SMART has released only 69 images and mosaics on the ESA website, even though maps of data acquisition suggest that many thousands of images were obtained. Japan quickly released the breathtaking HDTV image of the lunar south pole and Earthrise. This seemed to presage a flood of extraordinary new data that would transform lunar science, but so far only 20-30 images have been released, and almost all are HDTV rather than from the higher resolution Terrain Camera and Multi-Band Imager. Japanese scientists are scheduled to present papers about Selene at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference next week so perhaps there will be more wonderful images and science released then. China was very proud of its Chang'e success, having the President of the country release the first image. But then ignorant bloggers in China and elsewhere claimed the image was copied from an American Clementine mosaic. China rightly defended the integrity of their image, but it took Emily Lakdawalla to clearly explain that it wasn't a fake. I guess that China has been offended by the hallabaloo and surprised by the lack of praise and has subsequntly released only a handful of images. I think there has been another factor that has affected all three missions. In general, the images released have not been geologically significant, sometimes appearing to be selected at random, and the captions often have been naive. Apparently it is easier to send a rocket to the Moon than to know what to do with the data. And there is one more thing these mission managers need to learn. There is vast public relations benefit from frequently releasing dramatic images to demonstrate the success of missions. This builds public support and pride, both necessary to move on to future missions. I hope ESA, Japan and China will more fully share their wonderful new data with the world.

Chuck Wood

Technical Details
No images have been released by SMART, Kaguya and Chang'e recently and thus no image appears above...


Yesterday's LPOD: Triple Junction

Tomorrow's LPOD: Domeland: Known


Excellent and utterly relevant comment Chuck. As quoted in 'The Right Stuff' by Tom Wolfe; 'No Buck Rogers, No Bucks'. The public needs to be engaged and informed for support of these very expensive scientific (or otherwise) projects.

Mel Richardson


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