TOKYO – Japan's space agency has recommended scrapping its first moon mission after more than a decade of delays, a spokeswoman said Monday, in the latest blow to the country's beleaguered space program.
The Lunar-A probe was envisioned as planting two seismic sensors on the lunar surface to gather information about the moon's core and learn more about the origins of the Earth's only natural satellite.
But development of the so-called penetrator probes has taken so long that the mission's mother ship, which was built 10 years ago, has fallen into disrepair and would require too much money to fix, said Satoko Kanazawa, a spokeswoman for the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, or JAXA.
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The mission would have been Japan's first to the surface of the moon, and was originally scheduled for liftoff in 1995.
Japan will now scrap the mission but finish development of the penetrator probes and offer the technology to other space programs, including Russia's, Kanazawa said.
JAXA's space development committee recommended canceling the Lunar-A project on Monday, and a final decision will be made later in the month, Kanazawa said.
Currently, only the United States, Russia and the European Union have landed probes on the moon.
But China, which leapt ahead of Japan by putting astronauts into orbit in 2005, also has announced it has set its sights on a moon landing.
Japan has yet to launch a manned flight of its own, although the country has floated plans to land a man on the moon by 2025.
Japan was the fourth country to put a satellite in orbit, in 1972, but the space program has suffered numerous setbacks in recent years.
Its efforts to develop a commercial satellite launching industry was dealt a major blow in 2003, when a rocket carrying two spy satellites malfunctioned and was destroyed in mid-flight.
Also plagued with problems was JAXA's Hayabusa's mission to land on an asteroid, collect samples and bring them back to Earth. That probe has suffered a fuel leak and massive communication troubles.
Japan also had to scrap an earlier mission to Mars.
JAXA is now focusing on its SELENE probe, which is scheduled for launch sometime this summer, after a four-year delay. It is designed to release two small satellites to measure the moon's magnetic and gravitational field.