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Japan scales back lunar ambitions

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Japan is reportedly scrapping plans to visit the moon. Problems in developing the science package for the planned lander have delayed the project by so much that the spacecraft earmarked to make the journey has become dilapidated. Repairing the craft would be too costly, the agency says.

The Japanese Space Exploration Agency (JAXA) was planning to send a lander to the moon carrying two seismic sensors. These were to collect data that would have revealed much about the interior of our largest natural satellite.

The mission was supposed to leave Earth in 1995. For more than a decade, though, the scientists developing the seismic probes have struggled to get the instruments to work. During the delay, the mission's main ship was left untended, and is no longer fit for space travel.

Japan says it will finish developing the probes, and offer the technology to other spacefaring nations, but the moon mission itself will most likely be scrapped. A final decision is expected later this month, according to AP reports.

The space agency says it will now turn its full attention to the also-delayed SELENE probes. Mission planners envisage two small satellites orbiting the moon, measuring its gravitational and magnetic fields. This mission is already four years behind schedule, but there is talk that it might head for space some time this summer. ®

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