Once again, lunar exploration is a primary concern of the world's space agencies. Photo: Getty Images
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Japan joins list of nations planning on covering the Moon in robots over the next five years

The next five years will see a resurgence in lunar exploration, driven both by idealism and an economic incentive.

Japan’s space agency, Jaxa, has announced that it’s going to send an unmanned lander to the Moon in 2018, CNN reports:

This is an initial step and a lot of procedures are still ahead before the plan is formally approved," a Jaxa spokesperson told reporters.

If it is approved, the agency will reportedly use its Epsilon solid-fuel rocket technology to carry and deploy a "Slim" probe -- the acronym stands for "Smart Lander for Investigating Moon" -- on the surface of the celestial body.

Japanese media estimates that the mission will cost in the region of ¥10 billion to ¥15 billion ($83.4 million - $125 million). Jaxa spokesperson Chihito Onda confirmed to CNN that this estimate is realistic.

The Moon had best start dusting and vacuuming now, as the next few years are going to be a busy one - plenty of robots from Earth are planning to drop in for a visit.

Russia will be sending four (and one orbiter) between 2018 and 2025, as part of the repeatedly-delayed Luna-Glob mission. The plan is to gather data that'll prove useful in eventually building a lunar base sometime in the 2030s, but that should still be seen as a very tentative goal - but somewhat less tentative is China's Chang'e 4 and 5 rovers, both expected to launch sometime before 2020, as part of China's dedicated push towards landing humans on the Moon before 2030. (A Chang'e 6 might even squeeze in there before 2020 as well.)

India's ISRO has Chandrayaan-2 - featuring an orbiter, a lander and a rover - scheduled for launch sometime in late 2016 or early 2017, as a sequel to Chandrayaan-1, which successfully fired a probe into a crater near the Moon's south pole in November 2008. Then there are also the private space organisations planning missions to the surface of our nearest neighbour, most notably the entrants in Google's Lunar X Prize, which offers $20m to any group which can land a robotic rover on the surface of the Moon, drive at least 500m, and then send high-definition audio and video back to Earth. Nasa has its own competing competition, called Catalyst, with similar goals, while the agency itself doesn't have any landers planned, it is expecting to be able to capture an asteroid, put it into lunar orbit, and study it, all "by the mid-2020s".

Taken all together, it's clear that we're about to enter a particularly flurried period of lunar exploration. Why? Many of the reasons are covered in Michael Brooks' excellent NS piece from last year, "Who owns the Moon?" - because mineral rights play a large part here. While there is still a huge amount of prestige involved in successfully landing something on the Moon (there are still only four nations that have managed it), the larger story here is one of economic and political realities impacting on where space agencies focus. 

As Brooks writes, there is no one person or organisation or political body that can lay claim to the Moon, but the international law governing that is rather weak - and the value of the stuff to be mined from its rocks is too tempting to ignore for governments who want a financial return from . Helium-3 (the fuel in fusion reactors, once we've worked out how to build them), rare earth minerals, water - each existing in quantities worth billions, if not trillions, of dollars. Projects like the International Space Station (lots of scientific value, symbol of peaceful international cooperation, prestigious, extraordinarily expensive, little financial return on investment) are less and less attractive to governments now than future Moon and asteroid missions (lots of scientific value, prestigious, each mission costs a fraction of a fraction of an ISS, potentially lucrative return on investment).

Each nation that dreams of sending a rover to the Moon is doing so with, at the very least, an implicit belief that it's a precursor to establishing some kind of mining base, or a base that can act as a spaceport from which to launch missions to elsewhere in the Solar System, or both. But, before all that - these landers. The Moon's going to be a busy place over the next five years.

Ian Steadman is a staff science and technology writer at the New Statesman. He is on Twitter as @iansteadman.

PewDiePie
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"Death to all Jews": Why Disney dropped YouTube's biggest star PewDiePie

The Minecraft vlogger turned internet celebrity's taste for shock comedy was too much for the family-focused corporation. 

Disney has cut ties with YouTube’s most-subscribed star after he paid two Sri Lankan men five dollars to hold up a sign that read “DEATH TO ALL JEWS”.

Feel free to read that sentence again, it’s not going anywhere.

A still from PewDiePie's video, via YouTube

PewDiePie, real name Felix Kjellberg, has over 53 million subscribers on YouTube, where his videos about gaming earned him over $15m last year. The 27-year-old, whose content is popular with children, came under fire this month after the Wall Street Journal investigated anti-Semitic comments in his videos. In one video, a man dressed as Jesus says “Hitler did absolutely nothing wrong”, while in another Kjellberg used freelance marketplace Fiverr to pay two men to hold up the offensive sign. The videos have since been deleted.

Jumpcut.

The Walt Disney Company became affiliated with PewDiePie after they bought Maker Studios, a network of YouTube stars, for nearly $1bn in 2014. Following the WSJ’s investigation, Maker dropped the star, stating: “Although Felix has created a following by being provocative and irreverent, he clearly went too far in this case and the resulting videos are inappropriate. Maker Studios has made the decision to end our affiliation with him going forward.”

When you sack a YouTube Star, makes no difference who they are.

Via Wall Street Journal

But why should the story stop there? Neo-nazi website The Daily Stormer are now defending PewDiePie, while the notoriously politically-incorrect 4Chan forum /pol/ have called him “our guy”.  

In his defence, Kjellberg wrote a blog post denying an affiliation with anti-Semitic groups and explained his actions, writing: “I was trying to show how crazy the modern world is, specifically some of the services available online.” In a video last December the star also said: "It's extremely annoying how I can't make jokes on my channel without anyone quoting it as actual facts, like something I actually said", before dressing as a soldier and listening to one of Hitler's speeches while smiling. 

Pause.

(If all of this sounds familiar, recall when disgraced YouTuber Sam Pepper claimed a video in which he groped unsuspecting females was a “social experiment”).

Play.

And yet the story still isn’t over. Disney have learned a hard lesson about assuming that YouTubers are the squeaky clean fairy-tale princes and princesses they often appear to be. Shay Butler, one of the original founders of Maker Studios, yesterday quit the internet after it was alleged he sent sexual messages to a cam girl via Twitter.

Butler is one of the original "family vloggers", and has spent nine years uploading daily videos of his five children to YouTube. A practicing Mormon, Butler has become emblematic of family values on the site. “My heart is sick,” he wrote on Twitter, neither confirming nor denying the allegations of his infidelity, “I have struggled with alcoholism for years… My purpose is to rehab.” 

The result is a very dark day for YouTube, which has now dropped Kjellberg from its premier advertising network, Google Preferred, and cancelled the second series of the star's reality show, Scare PewDiePie

Amelia Tait is a technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman.