The China National Space Administration has announced Wednesday that its Chang’e 4 space exploration mission discovered an inscribed stone tablet dating to the early Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) six days into the exploration of the far side of the Moon by the Yutu 2 rover. Official news agency Xinhua described the find as ‘the greatest archaeological development of the century and a tribute to space exploration with Chinese characteristics.’
The inscribed tablet, or stele, probably dates to Admiral Zheng He’s voyages, whenever they were. Professor Dang Kou from Peking University said he and several colleagues had suspicions that such maritime markers might be discovered by Yutu 2. ‘Previously, such steles have been found as far away as Sri Lanka. We already knew of seven other Zheng He stele’s, but now we found the eighth which is also good luck because the number eight is very lucky for the Chinese people. It’s just amazing to think how advanced Ming navigation was. We knew China had the greatest navy at the time, but we were uncertain they could sail all the way to the Moon and back.’
CNSA spokesman Da Fangpi said: ‘The steles have been preserved in nearly perfect condition thanks to the airless environment and the lack of mainland Chinese tourists who like to carve their names on ancient relics.’
This discovery has serious implications for territorial claims in the Solar System. China already has claims reaching across the South China Sea, which, if extended to the far side of the Moon, could increase its disputed maritime territory by as much as 384,000%. The fact that this will vary depending on the relative positions of the Moon and the Earth at the time may pose problems for Chinese school children – and girls – when they recite the circumference of China, but education authorities indicated that they would be happy to settle for the upper limit of the claimed territory.
The CNSA is now hard at work on a project to put a base on the Moon. This will be named ‘Lunar Palace’ and could be ready for habitation in 2031, according to Da Fangpi. However, Western analysts suggest a shortage of clean air in China may be a stumbling block for being able to export a breathable environment to the Moon.