HK scientists lauded for efforts in China's lunar programme

PUBLISHED : Friday, 14 January, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 14 January, 2011, 12:00am

One of the mainland's most prominent lunar experts has given Hong Kong scientists stellar reviews for their contributions to China's lunar exploration programme.

Ouyang Ziyuan, the chief scientist of the national lunar orbiter project, repeatedly thanked local researchers yesterday for the roles they had been playing.

'The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology has made a great contribution to our country's lunar probe project,' Ouyang said at a lecture covering explorations of the moon and Mars.

Ouyang also hailed remote-sensing technology contributed by the Chinese University, a sample-picking device invented at Hong Kong Polytechnic University; and information provided by the geology faculty of the University of Hong Kong.

Invited by the China National Space Administration to join the lunar programme in 2007, Professor Chan Kwing-lam, an astrophysicist with the University of Science and Technology, and his research team used microwaves and the first 3-D lunar pictures to analyse the thickness of the moon's surface.

They found huge temperature differences between day and night and at different altitudes. The finding was considered crucial to China's future lunar landings - not only unmanned missions before 2017, but also the first manned one, scheduled for 2020.

Chan said his team would next try to ascertain the exact quantity of helium-3 on the moon.

The answer was far from clear, he said, although earlier reports said there were 10 million to 50 million tonnes.

Abundant on the moon, helium-3 is a clean and safe material for nuclear energy that is not naturally found on earth. Earlier reports said the moon's rich reserve of helium-3 was adequate for about 10,000 years of use globally.

However, Ouyang said it would take at least 30 years before the moon's store of helium-3 could be exploited.