There’s a persistent myth, still going around the internet,that we did not really go to the moon and that the Apollomoon landing was actually staged on a movie set. When aheckler taunted astronaut Buzz Aldrin about this, hepunched him in the nose. Understandable, given that Aldrinactually walked on the moon, and risked his life to do so. Now the European Space Agency has launched a spacecraft that is photographing the old Apollo landing sites, that will finally put an end to this conspiracy theory.

Leonard David writes in the NASA website that theESA’s SMART-1 probe, which arrived in lunar orbit lastNovember, has already captured images of the Apollo 11, 16and 17 landing sites, as well as the former Soviet Union’sLuna 16 and 20 robot landing sites. The mission is sosuccessful that it’s been extended by a year, until August2006.

NASA sent six expeditions to the moon between 1969 and 1972, before the US space program became militarized duringRonald Reagan’s presidency. Eventually, moon exploration wasreplaced by the space shuttle, although no shuttles havebeen launched since the Columbia explosion in 2003. We havesince discovered that there is an incredibly valuable fuelcalledHelium-3present in moon dust, which could provideall the Earth’s energy needs for the foreseeable future, ifwe could only figure out how to transport it back to Earth.It’s easy to mine once you’re there, you just shovel it upfrom the surface. This could be the reason the ESA has senta craft to orbit the moon.

Will we be able to see theAmerican flagthat Apollo astronauts planted on the moon and are theirfootprints still there? ESA Chief scientist Bernard Foingsays it may be difficult for SMART-1 to see individualartifacts such asthese, but it has recently been sent closer to the moon’ssurface. The space probe’s controllers, here on Earth, canspot the moon landing sites by looking for areas where theApollo rocket blasts stirred up the moon’s surface.

Why can’t we send the Hubble spacecraft, which is stillavailable, to photograph the surface of the moon? Hubble didphotograph the moon, in 1999, but Hubble images are notprecise enough to send back the kind of detail that ESAscientists are looking for.

Mining Helium-3 from the moon would mean sending astronautsthere again, to set up a base, but if they stayed any lengthof time, they would need access to water. SMART-1 will lookfor infrared signatures that indicate water ice (rather thanfrozen carbon monoxide or CO2). Other flybys have sent backevidence that water may be frozen on the moon in polarcraters that are permanently in shadow.

Read the amazing story about how the discovery of a cross inFrance led to a hidden cross in Peru that reveals asecretvital to mankind.

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