2008-07-29 22:43:00 GMT 2008-07-30 06:43:00 (Beijing Time) Xinhua English
WASHINGTON, July 29 (Xinhua) -- NASA has signed an agreement with eight other countries that they will carry out future lunar exploration together, the U.S. space agency formally announced on Tuesday.
The eight on the list are Canada, France, Germany, Britain, India, Italy, Japan and South Korea. NASA officials discussed the details of cooperation with counterparts from these countries at a meeting last week hold at NASA's Ames Research Center in California.
"The meeting laid the groundwork for a new generation of lunar science," NASA said in a statement released on Tuesday. Called the International Lunar Network (ILN), this project is designed to gradually place six to eight fixed or mobile science stations on the lunar surface, according to NASA.
The stations will form a second-generation robotic science network to replace hardware left by the Apollo Program to study the moon's surface and interior. As for NASA, it plans to place its first two ILN landers on the surface of the moon in 2013 and 2014.
NASA said that the ILN was created in response to a 2007 report released by the U.S. National Research Council, which affirmed that the moon offers "profound scientific value" and "lunar activities apply to broad scientific and exploration concerns."
Representatives from the above eight space agencies considering participation in the ILN agreed on a statement of intent as a first step in planning.
"The statement marked an expression of interest by the agencies to study options for participating in a series of international lunar missions. The goal is to form a network of missions that will benefit scientists worldwide," said NASA.
"We are tremendously excited by the enthusiasm shown for the ILN and lunar science more broadly," said Jim Green, director of NASA's Planetary Science Division. "This international activity will greatly extend scientific knowledge of the moon in a number of important areas."
Initially, participants intend to establish potential landing sites, interoperable spectrum and communications standards, and a set of scientifically equivalent core instrumentation to carry out specific measurements.
However, the statement of intent does not completely define the ILN concept. The document leaves open the possibility for near and long-term evolution and implementation, NASA noted. "Additional participants may join in the future when they are programmatically and financially ready."
"We are in a new era of lunar exploration," said Jim Adams, deputy director of the Planetary Science Division. "Scientific coordination of the international armada of missions being sent to the moon in the next decade will greatly leverage our scientific capabilities, and perhaps even more importantly, develop the next generation of lunar scientists."