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North America treated to total lunar eclipse

December 21, 2010 - SPACE

The last lunar eclipse of 2010 is especially well placed for observers throughout North America and the total phase will last for 72 minutes. A lunar eclipse occurs when the Moon aligns within Earth's shadow, taking on a reddish glow. The date invites a check on the state of the race to the Moon. Several spacefaring nations have set their sights on manned Moon missions, but there is a hint of the worry that being first to land humans on the Moon again could mean being last in the Mars race.

In 2004, the United States launched the Constellation project with the goal of returning to the Moon by 2020 and then establishing a lunar launch pad for a first trip to Mars. China, Japan, India have all been sending probes to the moon and drawing plans for lunar bases. The announcement in Sep 2009 that there is water on the Moon makes lunar real estate more useable for lunar bases and other purposes, but discussion at NASA is beginning to suggest that the budget won't stretch to both Moon and Mars missions and that the agency will have to make a choice. The present ills of the global economy are likely to press the same choice on the other space agencies. The event is the second lunar eclipse of 2010. The first in June, is a partial eclipse. The year 2011 will see two total lunar eclipses and no partial eclipses.

Obama Space panel says Moon return plan a no go (AP 8 Sep 2009)

Official: Water found on the Moon (Space.com/Yahoo 23 Sep 2009)

NASA finds ice on the Moon and on Mars (Reuters 24 Sep 2009)

Date written/update: 2010-12-21