Space Researcher Ouyang Ziyuan Discusses China’s Space Plans

Space Researcher Ouyang Ziyuan Discusses China’s Space Plans

Geologist and space researcher Ouyang Ziyuan gave a lengthy interview to Chinese television, in which he outlined the rationale behind China’s space program. Ouyang explained that his focus on space began when he was working in the Soviet Union in the 1950s when the Soviets launched Sputnik and the first man in orbit. That is when he, a geologist, knew that he should start looking more closely at the Moon, our closest neighbor, as the space age had now begun. Although China had no capability at the time for space exploration, he knew that this would eventually be developed.

“The Moon is full of resources—mainly rare Earth elements, titanium, and uranium, which the Earth is really short of, and these resources can be used without limitation….There are so many potential developments—it’s beautiful—so we hope we can fully utilize the Moon to support sustainable development for humans and society.”– Ouyang Ziyuan • Nov. 29, 2013BBC interview

When asked about the importance of the lunar program, he noted, first, the economic paybacks, pointing to the 14-to-1 payback ratio that the U.S. had received from the Apollo program. He also spoke of the military importance of space, noting, with some caution, the Johnson quote (which he mistakenly attributed to Kennedy), that “he who controls space, controls the world.” He pointed to the successful use of space in the latest wars of the United States, which suffered far fewer casualties than they would have had without the space assets. But most important were the resources found on the Moon (without specifically mentioning Helium-3 which he normally does), which could provide mankind for thousands of generations. He explained that China is now in the process of planning its program for Mars and for further deep space exploration, noting that Jupiter is also an interesting place to investigate.

Earlier in February, at a meeting at the Planetary Observatory, Ouyang had explained that the goals of the Mars mission were to search for signs of life on the red planet and to analyze whether it could potentially sustain life. The mission would also involve an investigation into the planet’s magnetosphere, ionosphere, and atmosphere and their composition, as well as research into its geographical environment and internal composition. Regarding the solar system, Ouyang said that the goal of future space explorations will be to understand its formation and evolution, to search for extraterrestrial life, and to understand potential disasters that the Sun and asteroids could cause. He added that the information gleaned from these explorations could be used and adapted back on Earth, or even to make another planet. According to Ouyang, there will be three stages to China’s missions to the Sun. The first will focus on solar activity, the second will involve exploring the north and south polar regions of the Sun, while the last and the most complex stage will be to send satellite arrays.

On the occasion of Ouyang’s 79th birthday this month, asteroid 8919 has been named in his honor the “Ouyang Ziyuan Star.”

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